About 100 demonstrators gathered in front of the Yadkin County, North Carolina Courthouse on Monday, September 23rd to protest what they called the immoral legislation of the NC General Assembly. Organized by the NAACP-led Forward Together movement, the crowd represented a broad array of North Carolinians. Participants included undocumented immigrant farmworkers, laid off autoworkers, NAACP members, clergy and students. They gathered in opposition to a string of state laws – voter suppression measures, cuts to unemployment benefits, restrictions on women’s health, and much more – that have been passed in recent months.
This was the 19th installment of the Moral Monday protests that have swept the state since April 2013, when a group of 17 North Carolinians decided to participate in non-violent civil disobedience at the state capitol in Raleigh. In the months that followed, the weekly movement-building protests swelled to the thousands, and over 900 demonstrators have been jailed thus far.
After the NC General Assembly closed session in late July, Moral Mondays hit the road, as North Carolinians from around the state began contacting the NAACP in the hopes of organizing their own events. 10,000 assembled in Asheville for “Mountain Moral Monday”, 2,000 gathered in Charlotte, and a revved up crowd of over 300 even managed to come together in Moore County, a sparsely-populated county adjacent to Fort Bragg.
Decades of patient, grassroots organizing by the NAACP, Black Workers for Justice, Democracy NC and countless other community groups and labor unions has created the space for this movement culture to blossom.
The Yadkin County Moral Monday demonstrates the depth of the movement. According to the most recent available Census data, Yadkin county – a rural area in the northwestern Piedmont region of the state – is 94.6% white. Yadkin county is represented in the NC General Assembly by State Representative Mark Hollo and State Senator Peter Brunstetter, both of whom scored 0 out of 100 on a recent legislative report card issued by Democracy NC. And as recently as May 2012, the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan held a cross-burning ceremony in Yadkin County.
El Cambio, an immigrant rights organization composed of both white and Latino youth, was the leading force in bringing Moral Mondays to town. El Cambio member Uriel Umberto spoke about the need for a grassroots approach to winning rights for undocumented immigrants in North Carolina. He also echoed the movement’s calls for economic justice in his repeated refrain, “I work so damn hard, and I’m still so broke.”
Reverend Curtis Gatewood of the NAACP opened and closed the event. Gatewood is the state coordinator of the Historic Thousands on Jones Street coalition (HKonJ), a yearly demonstration of thousands at the state capitol which has united around a 14-point agenda of anti-racism, anti-poverty and democracy. HKonJ has also organized local “People’s Assemblies” in cities and towns throughout the state.
The demonstration closed with a candle-light vigil in remembrance of all the victims of injustice in North Carolina, including Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed black man who was gunned down on September 14th by Charlotte Police – a sobering reminder that the movement still has much work to do in its pursuit of a morally righteous state and nation.