Seventeen activists and civil rights leaders surrendered to North Carolina General Assembly police outside the Senate chambers after an hour of prayer and song directed at what protestors called a regressive Republican agenda.
General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver said he twice told the protestors by megaphone to disperse but was drowned out by the sound of the civil rights anthem "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round." Legal volunteers with the protestors watched from the side for any procedural miscues from police, and another 30 people aligned with the demonstrators occasionally joined in chants from the other side of the rotunda that leads to the doors of the Senate.
Demonstrators first gathered at Davie Street Presbyterian Church to outline the reasons for their protest. They emphasized that their grievance goes deeper than a bill recently approved in the House that would require voters to present photo identification at the polls; they argued Republican policies refusing a federal Medicaid expansion, cutting unemployment benefits, eliminating the earned income tax credit and other measures limiting voting options expose the hypocrisy of a party that professes love of biblical scripture. Republicans took control of the legislature after the 2010 mid-term elections.
"If you remove all the scriptures dealing with poverty and justice, the Bible would literally fall apart," said Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP.
Barber was among a group of arrested protestors that also includes Timothy Tyson, a Duke University professor who focuses on the civil rights movement of the 20th century. In his prayer, Tyson attacked Republican legislation that would increase the number of charter schools or affect benefits that mostly aid the poor.
"We hear the weeping of the school teacher who's given her life for her students, who sees this legislature that's turned its back on public education for all," he said.
Barber said the NAACP is planning a tour of up to 20 counties that are home to lawmakers most associated with Republican policies, a May 7 rally at Bicentennial Mall and another nonviolent protest at the General Assembly that could lead to arrests. He said he expects the efforts to gain momentum.
"I don't know where this is going, but I know college students are burning up social media...and I know that after today no one will be able to say they don't know what's going on in this state," he said.
Meanwhile, Republican leaders have said they will not be moved by vocal critics. They said cuts will help with inefficiencies and the budget. They also said a voter ID law will help restore confidence in the voting process.
ABC11 asked N.C. State political science Professor Steven Greene to explain how the ongoing political drama affects how the rest of the nation sees our state.
"The people protesting, they're not going to get what they want through the legislature," said Greene. "So they're trying to influence public opinion and influence opinion about how people perceive North Carolina and make legislators reflect on that and make people in the business community reflect on that."
Barber and the others may have accomplished their goal of putting a national spotlight on an extraordinary session at the General Assembly.