Rallies held in all 13 congressional districts of North Carolina
RALEIGH — Civil rights activists focused squarely on North Carolina's Republican elected officials Wednesday as they used rallies across the state marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington to criticize GOP policies.
The state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People led "Take the Dream Home" protests throughout the state, scheduling them in each of the state's 13 congressional districts — from Elizabeth City to Sylva and places in between. The state NAACP is working to keep allied groups and voters energized in the weeks after the end of the General Assembly session.
More than 400 people participated in the Raleigh event. Speakers linked the cause of racial equality led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1963 march to the opposition to GOP state government this year that produced "Moral Monday" demonstrations outside the Legislative Building. More than 900 protesters were arrested in civil disobedience over three months.
"We refuse to be silenced and we refuse to turn back," said the Rev. Portia Rochelle, president of the NAACP's branch for Raleigh and Apex, in front of the Wake County courthouse. "We are here to seek just and moral policies from the North Carolina legislature."
The direct criticism contrasts with a largely apolitical speech that President Barack Obama gave at the anniversary event Wednesday in front of the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
Republican Gov. Pat McCrory released a statement earlier Wednesday saying the fight for equal access to opportunity isn't over, even as people disagree on how to reach it. McCrory and Republican lawmakers have said their policies will create more jobs and improve education.
King's words must stay alive in part "by transforming them into deeds that will create economic and educational opportunities for all," he said, adding, "The fight for equal access to opportunity is far from over. We may not agree on the route we take; however, our destination is undeniable."
Leaders of North Carolina's Forward Together Movement — the outgrowth of Moral Monday protests — used the day to continue their criticism of legislation passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed by McCrory this year.
In Raleigh, they cited passage of a state budget that provided less money for classroom instructors and created tax-funded scholarships for low-income children to attend private schools. They also blasted GOP decisions not to expand Medicaid coverage to more working people under the Affordable Care Act and an election overhaul bill they say will result in voter suppression.
NAACP activists helped people register to vote at the Raleigh event and urged participants to fill out pledge cards to volunteer. All 170 seats in the General Assembly will be up for election in November 2014.
The Republican legislature "has blatantly taken care of those with the most," said Marybe McMillan with the North Carolina AFL-CIO, pointing to a tax code overhaul and eliminating the earned-income tax credit. "We believe in the dream of equal opportunity and shared prosperity for everyone. ... We make it absolutely clear that we will not be quiet, we will not go away. We will not rest until that dream becomes reality."
Larry Nilles, president of the Wake County chapter of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said the movement isn't partisan from his group's perspective. Rather, he said, it's about speaking out against an agenda that is "trying to disband public schools."
"I would suggest that circumstances in North Caroilna are a little bit different than what they are in many places in the country," said Nilles, who held a sign in the crowd reading "Public Schools for Jobs and Freedom."
Michele Mallette, 29, of Raleigh said she attended because she wants the children she'll have some day to "grow up in an environment where they're not judged by their gender, their color, their creed or their sexual orientation, and they have equal rights."
The Rev. William Barber, the state NAACP president, was scheduled to speak at events in Lincolnton and Charlotte. He held a kickoff event in Greensboro on Wednesday morning.