“Freedom, freedom, freedom in the morning, freedom in the evening,” sang the impromptu chorus of women and men outside of the golden doors of the North Carolina House of Representatives in Raleigh’s Legislative Building for three Mondays in a row.
“Forward, Together, Not One Step Back!” we shouted between those who would be arrested and the many who supported them. Seventeen people placed themselves in front of the golden doors, holding banners and posters like “Expand Medicaid!” “Freedom!” “Justice!” on April 29.
The next week 27 people obstructed entry into the N.C. House of Representatives room.
On May 13, 49 people were booked for violating the law. To date, almost 100 people were arrested, with more Mondays of protest coming. All those who practiced civil disobedience, e.g., to get arrested, went to a 3:30 p.m. training event at Davie St. Presbyterian Church, Raleigh, to learn what to do in terms of being arrested. Doctors, lawyers, professors, clergy, seminary leaders, Raging Grannies; able-bodied and those with disabilities; black, white and Hispanic; old and young; gay, lesbian and straight; rich and poor; grandparents and young parents; and college and high school educated.
All held their heads high as they were cuffed and led off the premises by the authorities. Each group of people proudly stood their ground.
I was part of the chorus of support. I came to witness this proud American tradition of civil disobedience that goes back to the writings of none other than Henry David Thoreau of “Walden Pond” fame.
I also witnessed the massive show of force of State Troopers and Capitol Police. The police took pictures of us as we witnessed our sisters and brothers soon being arrested, taken one by one by large State Troopers and Capitol Police to a waiting bus outside. Plastic handcuffs were placed upon all of those who would not move out of the doorway.
“But this is the people’s house!” objected Rev. Vernon Tyson, in his 80s.
What is behind all this?
The General Assembly has awakened the silent majority concerned about the legislative agenda of the Republicans who are now in power of all branches of government for the first time since the Civil War.
There have been cuts in Medicaid, affecting 500,000 people and their families; cuts in unemployment compensation; cuts in educational programs from pre-K to universities; and laws loosening gun control and smoking policies on college campuses. One legislator wanted to make N.C. a “Christian state.”
These changes in policy affect all of us regardless of race, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic background; sex, gender, sexual orientation; individuals, couples or families.
Why Mondays? This is the first day and hours of the opening of the General Assembly for the week.
The Rev. William Barber and the N.C. NAACP calls these planned acts of civil disobedience “Moral Mondays,” in which those of us who object, on moral grounds, the actions of this General Assembly, are making it clear that we are not consenting to their draconian laws silently.
We are voicing and practicing our constitutional right to say “No. We disagree and demand to be heard and have our opinion taken seriously.”
What Rev. Barber did was take a moribund and dispirited, alienated group of Democrats, progressive voices and independents, and give a sense of urgency that was previously missing. As an out gay parent, standing alongside, witnessing and chanting support for justice with the broad spectrum of Carolinians, I am buoyed at the new sense of esprit de corps.
The day before, as I was driving to Raleigh, a moment of hope in the future was sparked hearing that Minnesota is now a state where marriage equality rules. As I chanted later that evening, I believe that we North Carolinians will one day soon be a state just like Minnesota, with the support of this diverse, marvelous community gathered together in one voice: “Forward, Together, Not One Step Back!” : :