RALEIGH — Democrats controlled the North Carolina General Assembly and lived in the Executive Mansion in 2007 the first time the Rev. William Barber and fellow advocates rallied outside the Legislative Building in the dead of winter demanding change.
But the eighth such annual gathering on Saturday morning in downtown Raleigh is sure to be the most vocal to date as the state NAACP and like-minded groups express opposition to policies of the Republican-led General Assembly and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in the past year.
The march and rally are poised to be the largest to date thanks to momentum from the “Moral Monday” protests in Raleigh in the capital in 2013, also led by the NAACP and Barber, the group’s state president. More than 900 people were arrested during more than a dozen Monday protests during the legislative session in nonviolent opposition to the GOP agenda.
The demonstrations received national attention, as has Saturday’s march, which organizers say people from 32 states and leaders of national organizing groups are planning to attend. Buses are coming in from surrounding states, the District of Columbia and New York.
While they didn’t give an estimated crowd projection Friday — a cold rain is possible that could dampen turnout — the march permit request with the City of Raleigh estimated at least 20,000 could attend. No acts of civil disobedience are planned, however.
“Thousands will stand against what we believe are morally indefensible, constitutionally inconsistent and economically insane policies being passed by our North Carolina General Assembly and signed by the governor of this state,” Barber said this week, suggesting the rally could be one of the largest of its kind in 50 years.
Nearly 200 organizations are joining the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the “Moral March on Raleigh,” a new name for the “Historic Thousands on Jones Street,” as it was originally called. Jones Street referred to the street where the Legislative Building stands and the usual terminus of the march.
This year, the end will be at the intersection of Fayetteville Street and Capitol Square, where McCrory’s office sits. The crossroads, where McCrory held his inauguration, should provide more space for demonstrators.
Advocates are angry about bills McCrory has signed into law, including the refusal to expand Medicaid under the federal health care law; a reduction in unemployment benefits; an elections-overhaul law that requires photo identification to vote in person; the elimination of the earned income tax credit; and taxpayer-funded grants for low-income children to attend private K-12 schools.
“We understand that our public schools do have room for improvement, but the solution is not to create a program that diverts money away from an already underfunded school system,” said Jessica Holmes with the North Caroilna Association of Educators, a coalition member.
Advocates for gay rights also are expected to participate Saturday. Equality under the law for all is one of five demands sought by Moral March leaders in 2014, as well as voting rights, health care access, “well-funded” public education for all and pro-labor and anti-poverty policies. The broad categories are similar to the items march organizers sought while state government was controlled by Democrats.
“This is not about Republican versus Democrat or liberal versus conservative,” Barber said. “The focus on our movement is about what’s moral versus what is immoral.”
State Republican Party Chairman Claude Pope said Friday that Saturday’s rally is a political event and called Barber the “de facto head of the Democratic Party who is pushing a “big-government agenda.” The state Democratic Party’s Executive Committee endorsed the rally last week.
Earlier this week, Barber told reporters that tea party groups seek out racial minorities as “mouthpieces” to promote their agenda. While Barber has the right to protest, Pope told reporters, “we need to have a respectful political discourse in North Carolina.”
Barber said it is Republican leaders who decided to become “political bullies” this year and ram through legislation, rather than have meaningful dialogue.
March organizers also will announce details Saturday of a statewide registration and mobilization effort for voters in all 100 counties to “make their voices heard at the ballot box this year,” Barber said Friday in a statement. The initiative is called “North Carolina Moral Freedom Summer,” a reference to the voter registration effort in Mississippi in 1964.