Clergy lead Moral Monday protest

Diverse denominations attend, some arrested
Jun. 10, 2013 @ 10:28 PM

Clergy led the Moral Monday protest at the North Carolina General Assembly on Monday evening in Raleigh, to speak out against Republican-proposed policies that hurt the poor, they said.

Several hundred clergy and other Moral Monday protestors gathered at Halifax Mall behind the Legislative Building on Jones Street. Women and men, black and white, greeted each other on the lawn muddied by an earlier rainstorm.

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins of Covenant Presbyterian Church was one of the organizers and held planning meetings at his Durham church. As the event began, Hawkins said that he wanted people to hear from a moral faith perspective about what’s going on in the state. The voice of the church is often silent, he said.

“This is a moral stand we’re taking here. We’re ministers and tremendously bothered by legislation being proposed,” Hawkins said.

Rev. Suzanne Lamport, a retired United Church of Christ pastor and a member of United Church of Chapel Hill, has been coming to the NAACP-driven Moral Monday protests every week “because what they’re doing is wrong and people need to stand together,” she said. She mentioned the rejected federal Medicaid money, voting rights and economic justice.

“We don’t want to go backwards, or [show] that rich people are more important. We believe all people are important to God,” Lamport said.

Rev. Johnathan Richardson of Stoney Creek AME Church in Elon said that clergy have long represented the marginalized and disenfranchised.

“They need a voice. No matter how hard you try, you cannot quiet the voice of clergy,” he said.

Signs in the crowd included those of faith: Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Durham and Carolina Jews for Justice.

A joint statement supporting Moral Mondays was also released by leaders of the Episcopal Dioceses of North Carolina and Western North Carolina, Synod of North Carolina of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbytery of New Hope and Presbytery of Charlotte of the Presbyterian Church USA, Catholic Diocese of Raleigh and the North Carolina and Western North Carolina Conferences of the United Methodist Church.

“This is a prophetic call for the people of God,” Hawkins told the crowd at the peaceful protest. “We don’t want anything for ourselves,” he said, but for “the least of these.”

Speakers included U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., who said it was a necessary movement, and he was there because injustice is there.

“The General Assembly has chosen to make policy decisions that hurt people who are hurting,” Butterfield said, calling it mean-spirited and wrong. He also talked about not accepting the state’s plan to use $90 million from public schools for private school vouchers. Many people at the protest wore stickers against vouchers.

Previous Moral Mondays have included the arrests of dozens of protestors who entered and assembled in the Legislative Building as an act of civil disobedience. This week included women and men in clerical collars and stoles, including Rev. William Turner of Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham. Turner, who is also a professor at Duke University, helped organize the gathering. At the rally, he called the protest a “moral manifesto.”

As it began to rain, protestors formed a line and entered the Legislative Building, where they gathered outside the gold-colored doors to the N.C. Senate chambers. Spectators lined the circular overlook above.

General Assembly and City of Raleigh police officers also lined the area. After several songs and prayers, police announced that it was an unlawful assembly, and people had to leave or they would be arrested.

Law enforcement used plastic tie handcuffs as they slowly led several dozen protestors away down the elevator to two Division of Prisons buses waiting outside. Charges for violating state legislature rules include disruptive behavior, trespassing and failure to disperse.

Supportive protestors stood on the other side of Salisbury Street, chanting phrases like “This is what democracy looks like” as arrestees were loaded on a bus.

Retired Presbyterian pastor Rev. Willem Bidisco Massink was arrested at the May 13 protest and has come back every Monday. What’s happening in the General Assembly is a flagrant assault on the well being of the people and environment of North Carolina, Massink said.

Also outside was Rev. Mel Williams, pastor emeritus of Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham and head of End Poverty Durham.

“The actions of the legislature represent an assault on the poor,” Williams said. “We are all here to say, ‘Not in my name.’”

A bus filled with arrestees rolled away about two hours after the Moral Monday event began, with protestors on the street cheering, waving and calling out “Thank you.”

Hawkins said the NAACP would meet them at the detention center.