Protesters address the media inside North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis’ office on Tuesday, May 27, 2014, in Raleigh, N.C.
PHOTO COURTESY OF FUSION FILMS

If North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis was under the impression that implementing new rules in the state Capitol for public demonstrations would be enough to silence the Moral Mondays protesters who made Raleigh, N.C., a focal point in progressive politics during last year’s legislative session, he might want to rethink.

After all, as the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the North Carolina NAACP leader and Moral Mondays organizer told The Root, “When you engage in civil disobedience, you’re willing to break unjust laws.” And it was in that spirit that 14 protesters were arrested Wednesday morning inside Tillis’ office after a 10-hour sit-in/sleep-in.

Advertisement

The legislature was closed for business over Monday’s Memorial Day holiday, but on Tuesday, after members of the Moral Mondays coalition made the rounds at the General Assembly to meet with members of the legislature, a group of 15 protesters upped the ante by sitting in at the speaker’s office, demanding a meeting with Tillis to negotiate their movement’s demands to roll back moves made by the Republican-controlled General Assembly last year that imposed voter-ID restrictions, ended the state’s earned income tax credit, cut unemployment benefits and rejected the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion.

Contacted by phone at the state Capitol Tuesday evening, Barber said that more than 500 protesters were at the Capitol to demand that legislators “repent, repeal and restore”—pushing back on legislative action that “denied 500,000 people Medicaid.”

Describing the sit-in, he explained, “There’s a lady in there with cervical cancer who needs Medicaid and cannot get it because [leadership in] this state has been so poor under Tillis, [Senate Majority Leader Phil] Berger and [Gov. Pat] McCrory. There’s a pregnant lady who decided to [protest] because she would have benefited from the earned income tax credit. Sixty-five-thousand veterans would have benefited from the earned income tax credit” that Republican lawmakers voted to undo in 2013.

Advertisement

By around 1:45 a.m. Wednesday, the protest ended with 14 of the protesters arrested on charges of second-degree trespassing. They were the first arrests of this year’s legislative session after 2013’s session saw several hundred arrests last summer.

Raleigh’s News & Observer recapped the day’s events leading up to the sit-in here.

At first, protesters gathered outside Speaker Tillis’ office:

Later, Barber delivered pizza and spoke with the House sergeant-at-arms:

Pointing out that Republicans in North Carolina, and nationally, have previously supported the state’s EITC and extended benefits for the long-term unemployed, Barber described the current General Assembly as “not a Republican legislature—it’s not mainstream—it’s not a Democratic legislature—it’s an extreme legislature.”

The Moral Mondays movement, he said, sought to use “tools of social justice” as a means of “exposing the level of extremism.”

Earlier in the day, Barber added, he and other organizers offered “a bible study in all of the major faith traditions inside the legislature for legislators to come, if they would, to learn what the true moral foundations of faith are when it comes to public policy.”

And the sit-in was the first major challenge to new rules that were imposed earlier this month by the Legislative Services Commission—which hadn’t convened since 1999 and hadn’t amended its rules since 1987—now banning activities that are deemed to “disturb, or create an imminent disturbance” that hinders “the General Assembly, one of its houses, or its committees, members, or staff in the performance of their duties” and could “include singing, clapping, shouting, playing instruments or using sound amplification equipment.”

Advertisement

But Barber dismissed the rules changes, saying, “They want us to chase those side issues.” According to him, the real concern is that when it comes to the “deep, moral, life and death issues” affecting North Carolinians, the state’s elected officials have violated the public trust.

“Leadership is supposed to do what is best for the good of the whole, not what is best for the whims of a few, the wealthiest and the lobbyists that come in.”

Editor's note: Previously, this article incorrectly described a protestor as having cerebral cancer.

David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter