The North Carolina legislature is facing a revolt in the halls of its capitol as citizens of the state express growing discontent with the new conservative majority’s focus on tax breaks and handouts for the wealthy at the expense of social services. The protests have resulted in some 350 arrests, including more than 80 protester arrests this past Monday, most of them clergy.
Thousands of North Carolinians have responded to the proposals of the Republican majority in the legislature with a series of protests that have become known as “Moral Monday” events organized by the North Carolina NAACP and local clergy. As protests grow weekly, crowds gather to draw attention to how the legislature has rolled back civil rights through voter ID laws, privatizing schools, and limiting access to reproductive health care.
The first Moral Monday protest, in late April, drew about 300 people. According to the protests’ organizer, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the weekly crowds now exceed 4,000. As Rev. Barber wrote in The Guardian:
The appeal for each Moral Monday has been the same: urging legislators to govern for the good of the whole, rather than for the wealthy. We didn’t come to this decision lightly. In fact, we made several attempts to meet with the far-right legislative leadership. Governor Pat McCrory invited us to his house for a 20-minute chat. We said we wanted to work with him to be sure he governed for the good of the whole, as the US constitution requires him to do. But it was clear he was marching to the beat of a different drummer.
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That drum beat has led the state legislature to consider, as part of state budget negotiations, eliminating unemployment assistance and tax credits for the working poor and blocking Medicaid expansion.
A group of rabbis who have been participating in the protests released a joint statement Monday calling these and other measures “reckless and heartless policies.” “Many of us have previously attempted to reach out to Assembly leaders for dialogue, and we have been ignored,” they said, according to the News & Observer.
For reproductive justice advocates, the refusal to expand Medicaid funding is a top concern. Under federally funded Medicaid expansion, about 500,000 low-income residents, many of them women of reproductive age, would be newly eligible for the program. Under the state budget proposal, not only will those women and teens not be able to access contraception and sexual health coverage under the Medicaid program, but there will likely be even less funding available for them via a supplemental program meant to increase access to care. Indeed the budget introduced last week by the North Carolina house would strip $250,000 from Comprehensive Health Services, which provides medical care and contraceptive coverage for poor and uninsured women who do not qualify for Medicaid, and reallocate those funds to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, an umbrella organization that oversees many of the religiously based crisis pregnancy centers in the state.
“Our lawmakers have a responsibility to protect women and families in our state by supporting programs that offer comprehensive, unbiased reproductive-health information. Crisis pregnancy centers do the opposite,” Suzanne Buckley, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, said in a statement. “The goal of these organizations is to block women from making fully informed choices about their own reproductive health. Legitimate health care providers put their patients first, not a political ideology.”
The growing crowds at the state capitol are now drawing national attention and support. As MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry stated in her latest “open letter,” which she wrote to Republican Governor Pat McCrory, “You may want the protesters to go away, governor, but they are just getting started. And so are we.”