August 20, 2013

Coastal Moral Monday draws large crowd in Manteo


Three Moral Monday events were held across the state on Monday evening, Aug. 19, but the charismatic leader of the grass roots social justice movement in North Carolina chose to attend the one that was held in Manteo.

“Let me tell you why I’m here,” Rev. William Barber II told the crowd of almost 700, his voice booming from the stage at Roanoke Island Festival Park. “I’m from eastern North Carolina. I was raised down here.

“It was down here in the east where I learned my values. I learned down here that there are some things that are just right and there are some things that are just wrong.”

The son of a minister, Barber was raised in Free Union, a small Washington County town near Plymouth.  His ancestors on his grandfather’s side are Barbers and Mackeys from Hyde County, and he is also descended from the Tuscarora Indians.

“The policies they passed are going to hurt people in eastern North Carolina worse than anywhere else, except in the mountains,” he said after the event.

Barber, the president of the state NAACP, had gained national attention leading weekly protests on Monday at the legislative building in Raleigh while the General Assembly was in session. Each week the number of attendees grew, and by the time the session ended last month, more than 900 peaceful protesters had been arrested, including several from the Outer Banks.

Then when legislators went home, Barber took Moral Mondays on the road, vowing to cover all regions of the state.  A rally in Asheville last week attracted 5,000.  The protest in Charlotte on Monday had about 3,000 attendees, and in Burnsville in Yancey County, about 500 people came. 

Organizers were expecting about 500 people to show up in Manteo, so they were pleased with the turnout, especially with rain stopping shortly before the gates opened.

“It’s excellent for Manteo, because it’s really hard to get any people out for any event we have,” said Immie Miles, a town resident in her 20s who was collecting donations after the event.  “I think it says that people are paying attention. People know what’s happening and they’re not going to stand for it.”

The crowd reflected all ages, black and white, although it was dominated by middle-aged white people.

Kevin Sheridan, a 25-year-old University of North Carolina-Greensboro graduate student, was dressed in a super-hero-type costume, wearing a cape and holding a shield that said “Fight On For Justice.”

“I’m here for justice and sensible economic policy, which the Republicans are not providing,” he said, adding that he has attended about six Moral Mondays along with his mother and sister.

A veteran of the local protests in the late 1980s and 1990s against oil drilling off the Outer Banks, Mickey Baker traveled from Ocracoke with another island resident, Carmie Prete, each carrying protest signs.

Islanders Debbie Wells, Betty Shotton, and Ann Ehringhaus also made the trip together.

“Mostly because, like everybody else, I am kind of outraged where our state is going in such a short amount of time,” Wells said. “I feel like (Gov.) McCrory misrepresented himself as a moderate. I don’t think he is that.”

Bill Jones and his wife Lida Jones, who retired full-time on Ocracoke six years ago, have painful memories of the civil rights struggle in their home state of Alabama.

“The thing that concerns me the most is voter rights,” said Lida Jones, 67.  “When I was younger, I was not brave enough to speak out . . . I know a lot of my friends are upset about the direction the state is going.”

The program began at 6 p.m. with numerous speakers, many of them local, giving brief remarks about recently enacted – or repealed - laws affecting the environment, women’s issues, education, the poor, healthcare, the justice system and voting access.

Singing and recorded music between speakers was interspersed with chanting, “Forward Together, Not One Step Back.”

Remarks by Dorsey Harris with the North Carolina Association of Educators, who detailed the impact of budget cuts on schools and teachers, received a strong reaction from the audience.

“Did you know that North Carolina is the only state in the South to cut funding for higher education?” Harris asked.

“Shame! Shame!” the crowd responded.

Barber, who will celebrate his 50th birthday on Aug. 30, spoke in the entrancing manner of a preacher – he is the pastor at Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro – and with the skill of a political orator as he deftly moved the audience through a long list of recently passed legislation that he called “immoral, extreme, and a form of political hypocrisy.”

“It almost doesn’t sound real,” he said, as he cited one law after another.

But he declined to condemn the Republican Party – which has had a record of moderation in the state – and focused on what he characterized currently as its hurtful policies.
He said that cuts in unemployment insurance, Medicaid, the earned income tax credit, education, and women’s healthcare will have dire consequences in the east, which has the highest rates of poverty in North Carolina.

Barber lambasted the legislature’s Republican leadership and the governor for passing restrictions on voting, using a false claim of voter fraud as a reason.

“Think about it,” he said. “Fifty years after the March on Washington, we have to fight for voting rights. But we’ve got to stand up and say voting rights are the cornerstone of democracy.

“This is a vulgar attempt at political manipulation,” he said, his voice rising.
“The truth is, they have temporary power and the future does not belong to them.”

Barber emphasized the values of love, fairness, justice, and kindness without sounding too much like church. He also frequently lightened things up with humor.

“They thought they could get away with it,” he said, pausing.
“Oh-oh is what they said in Raleigh.”

Then he reminded the audience of their unusual gathering for the Outer Banks, organized initially by Manteo resident Linda Willey, one of those arrested in Raleigh during a Moral Monday protest.
“They brought a loud preacher together with Linda and united us,” Barber said. “Oh-oh.” 


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