With protests erupting across the nation in response to the actions and rhetoric of the Trump administration, much of the nation is looking to organizers and activists for their next steps forward. The assemblage of people is an integral piece of the American political experience in all corners of this nation, but North Carolina has a particularly recent and vibrant history of peaceful rallying after nearly a decade of regressive legislation. Regions of the country whose activist roots are thinner and less tried could glean much from the experienced system of grassroots organization that North Carolinians have been perfecting for years.
Civil disobedience has a long history in North Carolina that pre-dates the modern Moral Monday movement. In fact, the very first sit-in of the Civil Rights movement occurred a mere forty minutes from Duke’s campus at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro. Four students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College sought to challenge segregation laws by sitting at the lunch counter, which only served whites, until they were served. Four days into their demonstration, the students had been joined by over 300 young activists, and their actions sparked a movement of sit-ins that spread across the country. Shortly after, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded in Raleigh, North Carolina. SNCC was on the forefront of the Civil Rights movement, playing a major role in the Freedom Rides of 1961 and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The rest of the 20th Century saw continued activism from SNCC, the North Carolina National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and other local groups. In 2006, Reverend Dr. William Barber, President of the NC NAACP, moved the agenda of progressive groups into the new millennium through the creation of the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) People’s Assembly Coalition, a union of over 200 grassroots groups from across the state who began to create goals, marches, and actions in support of a new conception of equality and justice. At this point, North Carolinians began to fight for the rights of sexual minorities, reproductive rights, and the protection of public education.
But the ultimate test to North Carolina organizers came in 2010, when an extreme Republican majority was elected into both houses of the General Assembly. Not only did this legislature begin to roll out limiting laws and immense budget cuts, but the 2010 legislature got the privilege of redrawing the voting precincts based on new census data. The map they produced was predicated on racially based gerrymandering that ensured the continuation of Republican power in future elections. By 2013, after the inauguration of Governor Pat McCrory, organizers in North Carolina were ready to establish a statewide movement. As a response to gerrymandering, restrictive voting laws that disproportionately impacted young people, black people, and traditionally liberal precincts, and the Governor’s refusal of millions of dollars in federal medicaid expansion, the Moral Monday movement began on July 15th, 2013. Through community groups and personal connections, the coalition recruited thousands of people to gather in Raleigh in support of voting rights, health care, social programs, public education, racial justice, reproductive rights, and the rights of the LGBTQ community. Continued partisan legislation that violated the rights of local governments and individual citizens like House Bill 2 moved North Carolinians of all ages, races, and classes to action.
The hateful and patronizing rhetoric of the Trump administration and its official is not new to North Carolina demonstrators. Since 2013, elected officials sworn in to serve the population of North Carolina have lodged insults at the entire mass of hundreds of thousands of people who have attended Moral Mondays. State Senator Thom Goolsby called protestors “clowns” and “crazies”, renaming the movement “Moron Monday” in a 2013 op-ed piece. Legislators and other Republican party officials have staunchly discredited millions of their constituents whose only aim is to voice valid concerns.
Under an administration that has not shied away from limiting rights already, in the form of refugee bans, walls, and dismissive rhetoric, the country should turn to North Carolina for lessons on organizing and standing up. Citizens of traditionally progressive states are lucky in that they have been able to be relatively passive. There was less at stake, and less to fight for in their regions. These states can teach us lessons manyfold, but here in North Carolina, we have an age-old and time tested dedication to fighting back against restrictive and discriminatory legislation. In the coming weeks and months, all eyes will be on our models of civil disobedience as concerned citizens across the United States look to respond to Trump legislation.