This week's Moral Monday protest in Raleigh, N.C. was the 13th and last of this year's legislative session, which ended last week. It was also the biggest protest yet against the ultraconservative agenda of the Republican-controlled legislature, drawing as many as 10,000 people to the state capital's downtown streets. Many of the participants were red-clad public schoolteachers and their supporters upset over education cuts and voucher schemes.
Though the legislature has adjourned, the anger that fueled the NAACP-led demonstrations and resulted in the arrests of over 900 people for nonviolent civil disobedience since late April continues to grow -- and organizers are drawing on it to take the protests to communities across the state.
"Don't make no mistake, North Carolina," N.C. NAACP President Rev. William Barber said in a fiery speech delivered to Monday's crowd. "This is no momentary hyperventilation, or momentary protest. This is a movement."
The first action planned outside Raleigh will take place in Asheville on Aug. 5 and is being billed as Mountain Moral Monday, with Rev. Barber as a featured speaker. Organizers are not planning any civil disobedience but say they want to let Western North Carolina residents add their voices to the protests.
"This event will give people in our part of the state a chance to stand up for justice, democracy and moderation," said Mountain Moral Monday spokesperson Valerie Hoh.
Asheville found itself a target of conservative lawmakers this year. Early in the session, Republicans introduced a bill amending the state's indecent exposure law to expand the definition of "private parts" to include "the nipple, or any portion of the areola, or the female breast." The bill -- a response to topless rallies promoting women's equality held in Asheville -- did not pass.
But North Carolina lawmakers were successful in passing a bill that takes control of the municipal water system away from Asheville and hands it over to a state-chartered regional authority without compensating the city for the loss. The measure, which opponents say is theft by the state and would harm regional economic development efforts, is the subject of a lawsuit set to begin next month. Save Our Water WNC, a group opposed to the takeover, is among the organizers of Mountain Moral Monday.
There is also a Moral Monday protest planned for Charlotte on Aug. 19, and organizers are expected to announce actions in other communities across the state soon.
The Moral Monday protest movement has gotten a lot of attention nationally. It's also spurred solidarity actions by people in other states -- including this song "Forward Together" by the Madison Song Circle in Wisconsin, another hotbed of grassroots activism against a conservative legislative turn that North Carolina has been compared to in recent months. "Forward together, not one step back" has been the motto of the Moral Monday protests and the broader Forward Together movement they're part of.