This summer, several Duke professors found themselves in plastic handcuffs.
The professors, along with hundreds of other North Carolina residents, were arrested at the ongoing Moral Monday demonstrations, which protest controversial laws passed by the Republican-controlled state government. Many believe that Moral Mondays have been instrumental in educating the public about North Carolina politics, and the protests will continue until the demonstrators get their message across.
Jedediah Purdy, Robinson O. Everett professor of law, was arrested during one of the Moral Monday protests. He said the demonstrations have been successful and have attracted national attention.
“[Moral Monday] has been a remarkably effective strategy so far,” Purdy said. “Most attempts at building social movements go absolutely nowhere, and this one has already gone somewhere and drawn in a lot of people who weren’t thinking about these things and paying attention to them before.”
The Moral Monday protests started in response to the North Carolina government’s increasingly conservative lawmaking this year. Last year’s election resulted in North Carolina’s most conservative government in a century, with both a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled legislature. Disagreement with recent conservative laws passed by the state’s legislature has spurred outraged citizens to protest, leading to the first demonstrations at the state legislature building in April. Protesters who refused to leave a section of the legislative building were arrested.
When Governor Pat McCrory was elected in 2012, the state of North Carolina was under a different impression about the nature of his policies, said Robin Kirk, program director of the Duke Human Rights Center. The protests have been instrumental in educating those who may not otherwise follow state-level politics.
“What the Moral Monday protests were able to do was not only educate people about the kind of legislation but also educate them about the real activity of the legislature and the governor,” noted Kirk, who was arrested at a July protest. “There is a huge gap between what McCrory promised as a candidate—not to limit women’s right to choose—and what he did as a governor, which is sign legislation that limits the right to choose and that limits ability to create abortion clinics.”
William Chafe, Alice Mary Baldwin professor of history, noted how greatly the number of participants has grown since the start of the protests since the original group of 17. Raleigh police have estimated weekly attendance at more than 2,500 at the protest’s peak.
The town of Asheville, with a population of approximately 84,000 people, had 10,000 residents attend a recent Moral Monday protest there, Chafe added, as an example of the far-reaching impact of the protests.
Chafe, who was also arrested at a rally, said he does not expect the protests to end any time soon.
“There are rallies in every congressional district and [we need to have] the realization that we’re in this for the long haul,” Chafe said. “This is something which is going to be going on for years. We need to organize ourselves so that we can make this a permanent statement.”
Some of the controversial laws recently enacted deal with voter identification and abortion clinics. Both laws significantly limit the rights of North Carolina residents, Kirk said. The voter identification law imposes new procedures that people must carry out to be eligible to vote, and an abortion law with harsher requirements for clinics, makes it more difficult for them to stay open, Kirk said.
Kirk added that the repeal of the state’s Racial Justice Act was instrumental in her decision to join the protests. The act, passed in 2009, aimed to provide racial bias from affecting the ruling of the court in a death penalty case.
Chafe said he hoped the rallies had an effect on the community.
“We were there to make a stand and to explain why we felt it was imperative that people pay attention to the degree to which the legislature was trying to rewrite and destroy history by essentially going back on all the progress that North Carolina has made this past 50 years,” Chafe said.