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EDITORIAL NOTE: This guest blog post was written by Nelda Holder, a board member of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina.
Although the North Carolina General Assembly had adjourned over the weekend, the weekly Moral Monday protest movement on July 29 drew its largest crowd of 13 gatherings in the capital city of Raleigh. The grounds outside the Statehouse became a sea of red shirts as state educators flooded the area to protest cuts to education, joined by women's rights supporters in pink and a rainbow of other activists speaking out against legislation that slashes environmental regulations, erects some of the stiffest obstacles to voting in the country, and otherwise leaves North Carolinians at risk.
This legislative session kicked off with the rejection of various forms of federal assistance, including the refusal of expanded federal Medicaid funding (leaving approximately half a million North Carolinians without that health protection) and reducing unemployment benefits (resulting in 170,000 North Carolinians without benefits). On the heels of Governor Pat McCrory expressing his plan to sign the voter suppression bill, despite not having read all of it, the session wrapped with the governor signing a restrictive abortion bill; legislation that will allow concealed carry of guns on playgrounds, school grounds, and in bars and restaurants; an educational voucher program that funnels tax money to private and religious schools; and a budget that eliminates funding for thousands of teaching assistants, teachers and counselors.
As these and other substantial damages to the welfare of the state's citizens were stacking up, Rev. Dr. William Barber, leader of the North Carolina branch of the NAACP, continued his eloquent and seemingly tireless leadership of the movement now known as Moral Mondays. The effect of these bills, he says, is immoral, hence Moral Mondays were born to focus attention on the effects on the state, its residents and particularly its underprivileged. More than 900 people, using nonviolent civil disobedience, have been arrested during the course of the Moral Monday protests, which have drawn increasingly larger crowds.
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Each Monday has focused on specific issues, and the League of Women Voters of North Carolina President Jo Nicholas spoke at the voting rights rally on July 22, where she reminded the thousands before her that the League has been working for voting rights for over 93 years: "Why should our legislators be challenging how, when and who we are to vote?" Local Leagues such as the Piedmont-Triad League have also actively participated in the protests other issues long familiar to the League, such as health care and education.
The Moral Monday movement has drawn intense attention nationally from the media and advocacy groups. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the harmful voting rights legislation alone has triggered attention for what appears to be the most restrictive voter suppression bill in the country. In the days following its signing, the North Carolina League pledged to continue the fight:
The League of Women Voters of North Carolina, along with our coalition partners will do everything in our power to protect our democracy and ensure that all citizens have access to free and fair elections. We call on the U.S. Department of Justice to use all means at their disposal to see that this legislation gets swept into the dustbin of history where it belongs.
Following the conclusion of the legislative session, the Moral Monday Movement will now follow the legislators home to their districts. A Mountain Moral Monday is scheduled in Asheville on August 5, to be followed by a day of Moral Mondays in each of the state's 13 Congressional districts on August 28. While they await the return of the Legislature next spring, nonpartisan groups including the League of Women Voters of North Carolina have pledged to lead massive voter registration and education efforts across the state.
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Rev. Barber, seemingly indefatigable in this campaign, appeared later Monday night after the outdoor march and rally in warm and humid Southern air to appear on stage at a music benefit for the Moral Monday work. He was sharing the stage of a popular downtown music bar with the likes of area indie-music tribes including the newly formed -- just for the cause -- N.C. Music Love Army.
You know it's a movement, Barber told the mostly young audience, when a man like him is out on such a stage late on a Monday night.