On Monday, June 17, 2013, I took part in my first protest. After years of encouraging others to occupy public places and raise their voices, I finally grew a pair and did the unthinkable. I stepped out from behind my laptop and onto the grounds of Halifax Mall, a huge park-like lawn behind the North Carolina General Assembly, along with several hundred, possibly more than 1,000 of my neighbors.
For me, this was a defining moment and a victory over one of my biggest demons – social anxiety. You see, I have an enormous fear of unknown situations, especially those involving large crowds of people. I have my reasons, probably irrational, and maybe someday I’ll write about those, but not now.
The icing on the cake, so to speak, is the fact that I made myself do this thing alone. No one went with me to hold my hand, although I did meet up with a few folks I know via one of the social networks, but the victory over fear was all mine.
I started the day with a project about thirty miles northeast of Raleigh, and figured I’d be there until at least noon (the protest being scheduled to begin at 5pm). I was finished before 10:30, so I decided to just go hang around in the several museums near the General Assembly.
By 3pm I’d toured the entire state history museum and four floors of the natural science facility, and I was getting tired and bored, so, against my better principles I retreated to my truck and sat there for an hour, burning gas, cooling off, and recharging my phone’s battery.
At 4pm I proceeded to the gathering place where a few people were beginning to congregate. I walked over and stood there, alone and anxious until finally my friend Al showed up. A few minutes later we were surrounded by a throng of people. Another acquaintance, Katy Munger, showed up with her table and her interns and proceeded to make me a really nice sign that proclaimed my deep roots in the state, in contradiction to remarks by Republican lawmakers that we protesters were all “outside agitators” bused in from out of state. I suppose since that’s what the Tea Party has to do to build a crowd, they must assume that’s what everyone has to do. Not so.
Finally, my friend James Protzman arrived with his adult daughter in tow. It was her first protest as well, so I was certainly in good company. Maybe next time I’ll cajole my college age daughter to come with me too.
Anyway, here’s how one source reported on the event.
Throngs of demonstrators gathered outside the North Carolina statehouse on Monday, as they have every Monday since April 29th, to engage in the latest chapter in an ongoing showdown between the North Carolinians and their state government in a movement known as Moral Mondays. A clergy-led grassroots movement, Moral Mondays has brought thousands of North Carolinians from all walks of life to the state capitol to pray, protest, and denounce a series of right-wing laws and proposals currently making their way through the state legislature.
The Moral Mondays movement, which is gaining support from five major Christian denominations, was originally spawned as a response to a regressive tax proposal that threatened to cut taxes for North Carolina’s wealthiest 5 percent while also raising taxes on the other 95 percent. But as the movement nears its third month, advocates are expanding their criticisms to include a growing list of extreme bills and laws endorsed by the Republican-dominated state leadership. These proposals, many of which have already passed through the state legislature, would:
– Block the expansion of Medicaid in North Carolina
– Institute discriminatory voter ID laws
– Cut preschool for 30,000 children and move $90 million originally slotted for public education to an expanded school voucher program
– Allow for hydraulic fracking in the state.
– Repeal the Racial Justice Act, a 2009 law that allows death row inmates to appeal their conviction if they prove that racial bias played a role in their sentence.
In addition, many of the advocates are expressing concern about proposed budget cuts to state unemployment benefits, which would deprive 70,000 North Carolinians of much-needed assistance if the law is allowed to take effect on June 30th. Over time, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that if the government benefits are allowed to expire, as many as 170,000 people in North Carolina could lose extended federal benefits.
Eighty four protestors were arrested for civil disobedience in Monday’s action. This brings the total number of Moral Monday arrests to more than 480, many of whom are clergy who have never before participated in political activism.
“When laws are most harmful to the most vulnerable, clergy who are committed to a biblical vision of peace and justice ought to start paying attention,” said Rev. Franklin Golden, co-pastor of Durham Presbyterian Church in Durham, NC and a clergy member arrested at the protests.
With both the North Carolina House and Senate governed by conservative Republican majorities, participants in Moral Mondays don’t expect to win many immediate legislative victories through their activism. Instead, activists and their supporters are hoping their prayers and protests will pay dividends at the ballot box in 2014. (source: think progress)
I plan to return next week if possible, and I hope that if you live in North Carolina you’ll make the time to get to a Moral Monday protest as well.