(The Root) — Seventeen people were arrested on Monday during a nonviolent "pray-in" at the North Carolina General Assembly, which was held by the NAACP to call attention to the state's Republican-led assault against the civil rights of poor and minority voters. Ben Wrobel, a spokesman for the National NAACP, said that the men and women were arrested without incident during the two-and-a-half-hour event.
The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP State Conference, said during an afternoon conference call: "We come to this point today reflecting on the great moral tenets of the Scriptures, including love and justice. We are also guided and driven today by the great moral framework of our state constitution that was written 145 years ago by black and white men who were in search of a better way forward than the old past of racial division and slavery."
Barber referred to the General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory's administration as right-wing extremists and "the George Wallaces of the 21st century" because of measures that negatively affect poor people and minorities. During its first 50 days in session, the legislature has made the following decisions:
* Rejected funding to expand Medicaid to cover 500,000 North Carolinians without health insurance.
* Rejected more than $700 million in federal funds for unemployment benefits, affecting 170,000 laid-off workers.
* Cut the payroll tax credit for more than 900,000 poor and working people while giving a tax break to 23 of the wealthiest people in the state.
* Planned to reduce access to preschool and kindergarten.
* Attacked the right to vote with a series of voter-suppression laws, including a voter-ID bill that will disenfranchise nearly 500,000 voters.
"They are pursuing a cruel, unusual and unconstitutional agenda reminiscent of the Old South policy agenda of the white Southern strategy," Barber charged. "This is a state issue with national implications, since many of these same regressive forces are at play in other states. And so much that is pushing this country back is first formulated in state houses opposed to [the] U.S. Congress. This is a national struggle to defend democracy for all from the bottom up."
The pray-in, which was also attended by the Advancement Project, other clergy members and students, was the first of many planned nonviolent direct actions against the state, organizers said.