RALEIGH, N.C. - Tens of thousands descended on the state Capitol here Saturday in a Moral March demanding equality for North Carolina's families, an end to voter suppression and cuts to unemployment benefits, a renewed commitment to women's rights and education and an end, in general, to right-wing extremism.
The march, organized by the NAACP, labor unions, and religious leaders, amounted to a dramatic comeback of the many Moral Monday protests that drew the attention of the nation here over the last year.
The city was abuzz the night before the Moral March there with services and preparations for the massive demonstration. I had a chance to sit down over North Carolina barbeque and speak with Ned and Betsy Kennsington of Durham
They said the march was their first demonstration since the Vietnam War protests of the 1960s. And that they were here because they have seen the far right go off the deep end, with its control of both houses and governorship of North Carolina.
The Kennsingtons, who have a daughter who is an organizer with Unite Here (the hospitality workers' union) in Connecticut, say its no accident that the right wing has gotten so powerful, because North Carolina is "the least (union) organized state in the nation."
Unless there is a massive mobilization of progressive forces, the say, the right wing remains in a strong position, particularly because state legislative district lines have been gerrymandered. "The way the law is drawn up, district lines will not be changed until 2020," explained Betsy.
North Carolina is also feeling the effects of the recent repeal of section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Progressives note that the repeal will empower far-right extremists to propose even more repeals and policies that make it still harder to vote. According to Rev. William Barber, chair of the North Carolina NAACP, with this repeal the North Carolina Republicans have passed laws making it harder to vote than in any other state - including South Carolina and Alabama.
North Carolinians are not new to struggles for justice. In 1960, in Greensboro, North Carolina, four black university freshmen refused to move and sit in the part of the diner that was designated for "colored people". It began with four students and grew to twenty. Amidst Jim Crow and lynchings, North Carolina stood firm - so firm, in fact, that in 2008 Barack Obama, the nation's first black president carried the state.
Now, here we are, in Raleigh for the Moral March of 2014, people are coming together of every shade, "making a beautiful mosaic of people of "all ages from carriage to cane," as one marcher from New York put it.
The signs were as varied as the people themselves. Signs that speak of a woman's right to choose, legalizing medicinal marijuana, saving our public schools, fighting to raise the minimum wage, the right to organize unions, stopping voter suppression, and even "no cuts to the movie industry of Wilmington" were all in evidence. "We ain't going back," was a common theme of the demonstration.
Monica Lewis, 50, who was there with her church and her two kids, said, "I see communities taking a stand because no one should go hungry, no one should go without health care, and no one should be living in poverty. Working people living in poverty doesn't make sense."
Tre Murphy, 18, was there with the National Alliance for Education Justice. "The way I see it," he said, "education is the civil rights issue of our present day and age. Anything that has to do with jobs has to do with education. Education is at the root cause in disparities of racial inequality across the nation."
Currently, bills are being proposed that hurt students and teachers of low income communities, and that penalize these communities for being poor while rewarding others for being rich.
Britney Jordan, an 18-year-old fast food worker in Durham said, "$7.25 really doesn't help pay the bills and if you're tired of working hard for people that are getting rich off us, join the movement for higher pay. Together we're stronger. It makes a difference."
Many young workers said they were there for their children. One father, a Bojangles worker carrying his son on his shoulders, said Obama's proposal of $10.10 really isn't enough, "but it will help and if we could get more help it would be a lot better for other families."
Together, they and the many thousands of others marched to the state house, chanting and singing. People were mixed in a way that must have created some kind of bond - atheists were standing next to theists, blacks were marching next to whites.
At the end, Rev. Barber gave a rousing speech, drawing up a five-point plan.
After the speech, the many thousands assembled, tears streaming down many of their faces, sang 'We Shall Overcome.' Almost prophetically - during the very last verse - the sun broke through the clouds.
Photo: NAACP North Carolina Facebook page.