CHARLOTTE – When Carl Caldwell heard about the Moral Monday protest in North Carolina’s largest city, he had to go.
A retired teacher, Caldwell said it had been years since he’d been to a protest. But he’s appalled that the GOP-led General Assembly has promoted an agenda that he says has “stripped the poor, elderly and working people of their basic rights.” So he wanted to show his solidarity.
“It’s shameful what they’ve done to North Carolina. This used to be a progressive state. People wanted to come live here. Now look what they’ve done. It’s just horrible,” said Caldwell, 62.
Caldwell was among the 2,000 people who gathered in a downtown Charlotte park Monday to protest the actions of GOP lawmakers during the last legislative session.
Protesters held signs and listened to speakers who criticized the GOP agenda.
“They are taking us back 150 years,” Kojo Nantambu, president of the Charlotte chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told the crowd. “We are going to fight.”
Charlotte, which is home to major businesses such as Duke Power and Bank of America, was the most recent stop for the Moral Monday movement that has drawn thousands of people to weekly demonstrations in Raleigh, part of an area known more for state government offices, universities and technology companies.
The Rev. William Barber said Moral Monday protests are uniting coalitions fighting for social, economic and environmental justice over what he calls divisive measures approved by Republican legislators.
Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAAP, is coordinating demonstrations in each of the state’s 13 congressional districts.
He organized a demonstration two weeks ago in Asheville that attracted thousands. In addition to Charlotte, protests were held Monday in the coastal community of Manteo, and in Burnsville in the western North Carolina mountains. Republicans took control of the North Carolina Legislature in 2010 for the first time since Reconstruction and cemented full control of state government with the election of Gov. Pat McCrory last year. Lawmakers quickly began passing conservative measures on topics such as abortion, the budget, education, elections, health care and the environment.
The General Assembly refused to expand Medicaid to about 500,000 more people, cut unemployment benefits and abolished the earned-income tax credit, which serves low to middle-income people. McCrory last week signed into law a voter ID law that shortens early voting by a week and ends same-day registration.
Lawmakers also cut taxes for corporations, and the $20.6 billion state budget that McCrory recently signed into law cuts pay for teachers with graduate degrees, ends teacher tenure and included a measure that for the first time will allow taxpayer money to be used to pay tuition at private schools.
Environmentalists warned that the effects of numerous GOP-backed measures could be felt for generations. They pointed to the removal of key scientists and environmental experts from state oversight boards, rollbacks of clean water protections and a measure making it easier to build landfills near parks and wilderness areas.
Republican leaders praised the legislative accomplishments, saying they enacted reforms critical to providing greater opportunities to North Carolinians.
But the sharp rightward turn in Raleigh provoked weekly protests at the legislative building that drew thousands from across the state and resulted in about 930 arrests. The changes also garnered national media attention.
In Charlotte, Caldwell and others cheered the speakers, including Nantambu, who called the GOP policies ‘evil” because they hurt so many people.
He urged people to register to vote, and promised more protests.
Caldwell said he was more determined than ever to make his voice heard.
“They think we’re going to go away. We’re not,” he said.
Michelle Gibson agreed.
“So many people have been hurt and we have to do something about it,” the 48-year-old nurse said. “We can’t stay quiet.”