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Seventeen arrested at prayerful protest

The Wilmington Journal

5/24/2013, 12:14 p.m. | Updated on 5/24/2013, 12:14 p.m.
Seventeen people, including eight ministers, civil rights leaders and students, were arrested for a prayerful protest at the state Legislature ...
Rev. Barber and other activists sing during the pray-in outside the doors of the N.C. Senate. – Photo courtesy of the Wilmington Journal Photo courtesy of the Wilmington Journal

WILMINGTON, N.C. (NNPA) – Seventeen people, including eight ministers, civil rights leaders and students, were arrested for a prayerful protest at the state Legislature in Raleigh on Monday.

They promise to return again.

The activists were handcuffed and taken to jail while they sang and prayed in front of the locked chamber doors of the North Carolina Senate. The nonviolent civil disobedience was the opening round in a series of protests to focus national attention on what Rev. William Barber, North Carolina NAACP state president, called “the ideologically driven, extremist, mean-spirited agenda” that has captured both legislative houses and the governor’s office in North Carolina.

“The decision to engage in civil disobedience is not one we take lightly,” Barber stated. “But the extremists are acting like the George Wallaces of the 21st century. They are pursuing a cruel, unusual and unconstitutional agenda reminiscent of the Old South. What happens in North Carolina does not stay in North Carolina. It has national implications. North Carolina is ground zero in a national struggle to defend democracy for all.”

The group arrested Monday was composed of men and women of many different races and backgrounds, with ages ranging from 18 to 74. The ministers included: Rev. William J. Barber II, Rev. Jimmie R. Hawkins, Rev. Curtis Gatewood, Rev. Nelson Johnson, Rev. John Mendez, Rev. Maria Palmer, Rev. Larry Read and Rev. Theodore Anthony Spearman.

The others included three college professors, two students and veteran civil rights leaders: Adam Sotak, Dr. Timothy Tyson, Margaretta Belin, Bryan Perlmutter, O’Linda Gillis, Professor Perri Morgan, Molly McDonough, Barbara Zelter and Bob Zellner, a veteran of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. One of those arrested was in a wheelchair.

Republican lawmakers say they are only doing what the voters elected them to do.

In the first 50 days of the North Carolina legislative session, the Republican-controlled Legislature enacted polices that critics say will adversely impact hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians. A recent Public Policy Polling poll found that a majority of North Carolinians oppose what Barber calls “an extreme and aggressive agenda.” However, the Legislature appears steadfastly committed to acting on it.

This session, the Legislature has:

• 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 over 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 pre-school and kindergarten.

• Pushed a voter ID bill, in addition to stopping Sunday voting, cutting the early voting period, stopping same-day registration and ending straight-ticket voting, efforts that critics say disenfranchise Black and young voters.

“Love and justice demand a witness in the face of this regressive public policy,” Barber stated. “The noblest sentiment of our Constitution and deepest aspirations of our religious traditions summon us in the public square to enact policies that maintain a commitment to the protection of civil and human rights, the common good, the good of the whole, equal protection and justice for all, and the uplift of the poor and marginalized. Anything opposing these principles must be challenged.”

“This much is clear: the Republican-led Legislature is standing in the way of progress and passing laws that violate fundamental constitutional rights. As leaders of moral conscience, we must draw the line somewhere. That is what this direct action is all about,” Barber added.

Critics say the attack on voting rights seen in North Carolina is being mirrored in state legislatures across the country, particularly the South. Legislators are pursuing extremist, regressive agendas, critics say, to block progress by making it harder for people to vote.

“Those most impacted by these policies are seniors, students, people of color and the working poor,” Attorney Al McSurely stated. “Rev. Barber calls on all people of conscience to hold similar protests and direct actions in cities and states across the country, in solidarity with us in North Carolina.”

Cash Michaels contributed to this report.