RALEIGH—Demonstrators carrying three empty coffins led a long, silent procession of more than 200 to Gov. Pat McCrory’s executive mansion Monday.
Police had blocked off the streets surrounding the mansion, which takes up an entire city block. The protestors, ranging in age from about 7 to 70, were almost completely silent with the exception of interspersed choruses of “We Shall Overcome.”
In Moral Monday’s 18th incarnation since last spring, the now-iconic series of protests and civil disobedience, returned to downtown Raleigh as a youth-focused rally. Held on the day after the 50th anniversary of the Birmingham, Ala. church bombing that killed four young girls during the Civil Rights Movement, the protest recalled the lengthy history of violence and conflict surrounding the right to vote.
This week’s protest, propelled by the North Carolina NAACP chapter and its president, Rev. William Barber II—Divinity ‘89—also focused on youth issues and education. It began with Barber’s address to a small crowd inside the First Baptist Church.
“That blood [of the martyrs] says to us, ‘We were martyred ... for equality and equal protection under the law. Don’t you dare go backwards. Don’t you let our dying be in vain,’” Barber said. “We say to the current leadership of North Carolina, ‘If you stay with this extreme agenda, we love you but we will fight you, covered in the blood of the martyrs.’”
Barber’s son, William Barber III, also spoke, along with other members of the NAACP board of directors and local high school students.
Organizers passed out posters featuring portraits of the four girls killed in the 1963 Birmingham bombing, and attendees were asked to hold them up during transitions between speakers.
“Voting rights and education—things that are necessary for our generation to participate in society—are under an attack like never before,” Barber III said from the pulpit. “Five-thousand two-hundred teachers have been cut, 4,580 teaching assistants have been cut. We are now facing the voter ID law, which directly targets students with more restrictions than South Carolina or Alabama.”
After the protestors surrounded the mansion, they moved to an open courtyard, where they heard from additional speakers, including Dylan Su-Chun Mott, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He spoke about the consequences of the recent North Carolina voter ID law and changing education policies in the state. He cited the Board of Governors of UNC’s decision to overturn a student initiative for gender-neutral housing options as an example of an absent collective student voice in government.
“We as students are not able to influence [their] decisions,” Mott said. “Now they are trying to take away our vote.”
McCrory signed the controversial voter identification law Aug. 12. House Bill 589 included a reduction of early voting and the elimination of same-day voter registration, pre-registration for high school students and the use of college-issued cards as acceptable forms of voter identification.
DeMonte Alford, a recent graduate of East Carolina University, said in an interview after the rally that it is not solely local Republicans who are to blame, and solace is not to be found in one party or another.
“We don’t have permanent friends or enemies. We have permanent issues,” Alford said. “[We will have rallies] as many times as it takes.”
Barber III encouraged North Carolinians to build a coalition of college students and young leaders who support the cause of Moral Mondays and the NAACP, including signing up for text updates, registering with NAACP and supporting the joint lawsuit that the group has filed with the American Civil Liberties Union against the voter ID law.
At the end of the protest, the demonstrators put their hands together around candles sitting on top of the coffins, protecting the flames from the wind.
“We are standing here in honor and memory of these four little girls,” Barber III said. “Fifty years ago they gave their lives to inspire us and ensure that we would never stop… when it comes to our right to vote.”