Organizers of Saturday’s moral march on Raleigh plan to use the event’s momentum to mobilize voters, they say. The event follows last year’s weekly Moral Monday rallies that criticized laws passed by North Carolina’s Republican-led government. The new focus is on the fall elections.
On Saturday morning, tens of thousands chanting and holding banners filled downtown Raleigh’s Fayetteville Street from side to side for five blocks. They were there to hear The Rev. William Barber of the state NAACP. At the end of the street in front of an American flag that snapped over the old State Capitol building, Barber preache..his voice thundering through speakers.
“We are people, we are natives and immigrants, we are business leaders and workers and unemployed, we are doctors and the uninsured, we are gay, we are straight, we are student, we are parents, we are retirees,” Barber said. “We are North Carolina. We are America. And we are here, and we ain’t going nowhere.”
The people were convinced, but the issues were as diverse as the crowd itself. Those issues included raising teacher salaries, blocking fracking and repealing the death penalty. Zelma Higgs came from Lexington, where she works at a Taco Bell. What does she want? Her issues include expanding Medicaid and raising the minimum wage.
“We need affordable benefits,” Higgs said. “We need people that actually see that we are working hard, and we need support.”
Earlier in the week, the state Republican party called Moral Monday leaders extremists who use inflammatory rhetoric. On Saturday, people at the rally said the same thing back. Susan Eder, a physician in Raleigh, was one of more than 900 who were arrested at rallies last year. She’s not entirely hopeful about the march’s potential to change lawmakers’ minds.
“I don’t think that the legislature at this point is going to listen to us. I’m not optimistic about it,” she said. “But we are the voters and there will be elections in 2014, and there will be elections in 2016.”
And that’s the thread the NAACP is using to connect disparate groups. They say the election in November is their opportunity to vote the people they want in or out of office. In his speech, Barber directed people to register voters... and not lose sight of what he calls higher ground.
“We will not give up on it,” Barber said from the stage. “Not now, not ever.”
So, people like Reginald Barrett of Pitt County, who was in front of the stage during Barber’s speech, said they've gotten their marching orders.
“It’s movement time,” Barrett said. “I’m going to register people to vote. I’m going to educate people in the educating process, and we’re going forward in North Carolina.
The General Assembly meets starting on May 14. Today is the first day candidates can officially file to run in the fall election.