A notable local reverend was arrested for an alleged act of civil disobedience at the North Carolina State Legislative Building on Monday, June 10.
Rev. Stuart Taylor of the First Presbyterian Church in Elkin was one of 90 activists who were detained by General Assembly and Raleigh police.
An additional 84 were arrested on Monday, June 17.
The arrests are part of a seventh week of protests aimed at the policies of the Republican-controlled legislature.
In Raleigh, nearly 500 people have been arrested to date since the “Moral Monday” events began in April.
Organized by the North Carolina Chapter of the NAACP, the “Moral Monday” demonstrations have now reached Elkin with several dozen activists holding peaceful demonstrations on the corner of Bridge Street and Market Street on Monday, June 17.
“Every week it seems a new injustice comes out of Raleigh passed into law and cloaked in ideological pieties,” said Reverend Taylor. “Our state has rejected Medicaid aid from the federal government that left 400,000 North Carolinians without medical care. They stopped unemployment benefits in a state that has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. They raised taxes on the poor to enable further tax cuts for the rich.”
“Some 90 including numerous clergy chose to go to the rotunda to sing hymns, offer prayers, and to share out testimonies,” he said.
Reverend Taylor said they felt called by the spirit of God to stand up and defend the most vulnerable ones in the state.
“We cry out with one voice for God’s justice and love. We are not outsiders,” he said.
Opponents, such as Gov. Pat McCrory, have called the demonstrators “outsiders” and showed no signs of backing down, stating lawful demonstrations are welcomed, but unlawful demonstrations are not.
According to the NAACP, which is representing Reverend Taylor and others in the dispute, warrants show 98 percent of the protesters arrested in last week’s protests were from North Carolina.
Fred Stutzman, one of the eight UNC-CH data collectors, said that a sampling of the crowd was performed. On behalf of EPS Research, a data collection company, six independent researchers asked 316 people for their ZIP codes, race and age.
“Their findings show that five of the respondents were from out-of-state and 311 were from North Carolina, overwhelmingly from the Triangle area but also from such metropolitan regions as Wilmington, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Asheville and Charlotte, even the Yadkin Valley,” said Stutzman.
“These protesters are not old white hippies either,” continued Stutzman. “We found that the demographics are largely representative of the demographics from North Carolina. This data conclusively settles the question that this is a home-grown movement.”
The average age of the protesters, according to the UNC researchers, was 53, with 25 percent under age 36. Sixty percent were female, and the racial breakdown largely matched the 2010 Census findings – 79 percent were white, 17 percent African-American, 6 percent Hispanic and the rest were Asian, Pacific Islander, Indian or other.
A spokesperson from Governor McCrory’s declined comment on the research.
At the Elkin protest, passengers of vehicles driving down Bridge Street were observed waving supportive gestures to the demonstrators. Some opted to honk their horns. Others seemed confused about what was taking place.
“Just seems like a bunch of venting going on,” said Maurice Long, passing through from Thurmond. “With so many complaints, it makes me not want to pay attention. It all becomes just a bunch of people waving signs. You stop reading.”
Joining the protest was The Rev. W. Gaye Brown of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, representing the Galloway Memorial Episcopal Church in Elkin. She said the message is clear and that people are concerned about the poor, Medicaid, and unemployment.
“As a witness to what we are now seeing in this community by the people of all denominations coming together, it shows that this community is concerned about those most vulnerable,” said Reverend Brown.
Reverend Taylor said it was time to consider holding peaceful demonstrations at the local offices of state representatives.
Reverend Brown said a better dialogue is needed with them, as well.
“We need to change the way they’re doing things in Raleigh,” said Reverend Brown. “We don’t have to just be in Raleigh to say no.”
The Elkin organizers say they’ll meet and protest again next Monday at 5 p.m. on the same corner and will continue the advocacy as long as the protests continue in Raleigh.
“We’re not getting specifics from these demonstrators,” responded Representative Sarah Stevens. “They don’t have a specific roster. They’ve have been doing this for a little bit and are saying that we’re not listening. All of the leadership have sat down with them, but the differences are simply philosophical between Republican and Democrat. Some are between conservative and liberal.
“It’s not that they’re not being heard. It’s that we just don’t agree with them,” said Stevens.
“I’ll be happy to talk with them and listen to their side. If they feel that their position is so strong that they put up a candidate, that’s what they do, but I am here to get spending under control and represent the people who elected me. It may be called Moral Monday, but what is the morality about? If they have specific issues they can get them to me so I can respond,” said Stevens.
“Our office is open to constituents’ concerns from the district,” responded Senator Shirley Randleman. “I am not aware of any contact from these local demonstrators, and I constantly monitor and respond to email and phone communications.”
Reach Anthony Gonzalez at 336-835-1513 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.