Thousands rally in Raleigh against GOP agenda
Members of Charlotte's Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church march as part of a mass rally Saturday, Feb. 8, to renounce what organizers called regressive, right-wing policies by the state's Republican-controlled legislature. (Photo: Glenn H. Burkins for Qcitymetro.com)
North Carolina NAACP president William Barber, center, delivers a 40-minute speech Saturday, Feb. 8, at a Moral March" in downtown Raleigh. (Photo: Glenn H. Burkins)
RALEIGH - They arrived in private cars, rented buses and church vans, thousands of activists marching to denounce what they say is a regressive, right-wing agenda by the state's Republican-controlled legislature.
Led by North Carolina NAACP President William Barber, the protestors convened Saturday for what was dubbed a “Moral March” that began with an early morning pep rally at Shaw University and ended hours later with rousing speeches near the state Capitol.
Hundreds of Charlotte residents made the trip, including several church groups.
In a 40-minute speech that spoke to his roots as a Baptist preacher, Barber called for well-funded public schools, anti-poverty policies, affordable health care and the expansion of Medicaid, an end to disparities in the criminal justice system basis on race and class, the protection of voting rights.
“This Moral March inaugurates a fresh year of grassroots empowerment, voter education, litigation and nonviolent direct action,” Barber told the crowd.
“We will defend the ballot. We will defend the Constitution. We will encourage voter turnout regardless of party,” he said. “And will sue to restore voting rights and educational equality.”
The march was part of the Historic Thousands on Jones Street movement, or HKonJ, that started in 2007. Those protests gained momentum last year as nearly 1,000 volunteers got arrested during “Moral Monday” demonstrations designed to draw attention to GOP actions affecting Medicaid, unemployment benefits, abortion, voting and education.
Raleigh police didn’t release a crowd estimate, but according to The Associated Press, the permit application planned for at least 20,000. The number of marchers stretched for six blocks.
“We return to Raleigh with a renewed strength and a new sense of urgency,” Barber said.
“We call on all people of good will – black, white native Americans, Asians Latinos, Democrats, Republican, rich, poor, young and old – to resist attacks on the poor and working families of North Carolina,” he said.
“In this moment we cannot be silent,” he continued. “We must become the trumpets of conscience that we are called to be, echoing the God of our mothers and our fathers in the faith. …Now is the time. Here is the place. We are the people, and we shall be heard.”
The Rev. Dwayne Anthony Walker, pastor of Charlotte’s Little Rock AME Zion Church, and about 60 members of his congregation marched to the Capitol carrying a banner with the name of the church.
Looking around the streets packed with marchers, he said, “It’s beautiful and exciting to see so many people moving in the same direction.”
Walker said he was “absolutely appalled” by the General Assembly’s cuts in such areas as unemployment benefits and education, and by implementing a voter identification law.
“They’re trying to turn back the clock,” he said.
Walker hoped the march would call attention to what’s been going on in Raleigh and also encourage people to vote.
For him, it was a historic moment when “a group of people dared to stand up and take a stand for right.”
Lodia Ward, who came on one of three buses from Charlotte’s St. Paul Baptist Church, said she came representing the working poor – those forced to live on minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) and those who have seen their unemployment benefits reduced.
“It has to be hard on a single parents and family members trying to make a living on $7 an hour,” she said. “Two people makes $14 an hour and trying to raise a family – it’s real hard with gas, water, rent. So I’m out here walking for that.”
Ward said she believed the protest would be seen and heard by those in power.
“Mass involvement always brings out positive force,” she said. “Nobody is asking for a handout. We want to help ourselves.”
Willie Jennings of Durham came with his wife, Joann.
“I wanted to be a part of the march for justice,” he told Qcitymetro.com. “I want to be a part of the movement that is trying to challenge some of the regressive policies of the state legislature.
“And I wanted to be a part of saying to our governor and to (N.C. Sen. Tom) Tillis and others that the policies that they have put in place are hurting or state and that we would hope that as we move into this new election season that they would be aware that there are a number of people who are very unhappy and will certainly make their wishes known at the ballot box,” he said.
Editor’s Note: The Charlotte Observer contributed to this report.
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