9th 'Moral Monday' focuses on unemployment cuts


It was the ninth rally organized by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP. Nearly 675 people have now been arrested protesting the policies of Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican-controlled legislature.

Those elected GOP leaders have largely ignored the protests, or derided those who come out to oppose their agenda as "outsiders" and "morons" even as arrest reports show nearly all are from within the state and list occupations that include clergy, doctors, lawyers and teachers.

As the protesters sang hymns before the great golden doors of the state Senate Monday night, legislators entered the chamber through the back to hold their scheduled session and move bills.

North Carolina's Republicans took simultaneous control of the legislature and governor's mansion in January for the first time in more than a century. The current session has been marked by sweeping conservative measures in what has long been counted as among the South's most progressive states.

North Carolina on Sunday became the first state in the nation to disqualify itself from collecting extended unemployment benefits to help repay a debt to the federal government faster. About 70,000 people lost their benefits, with another 100,000 to be cut off in the coming months, according to the U.S. Labor Department. The maximum weekly benefit a laid off worker can receive was also slashed from $535 to $350.

After nine consecutive weeks of peaceful "Moral Monday" protests, the events have developed something of a routine.

Shortly before 7 p.m., General Assembly police chief Jeff Weaver warned those assembled in the atrium that they were engaging in an "unlawful" protest and subject to arrest if they didn't leave within five minutes.

Those who remained lined up and waited to be arrested by dozens of officers carrying plastic zip-tie handcuffs. As the first arrests of the evening began, the crowd launched into a rousing rendition of "This Little Light of Mine," including a chorus of "Even in a jail cell, I'm going to let it shine!"

Among those handcuffed were Mike and Betsey Pedneau, married for 43 years. A Vietnam veteran, Mike retired as the state's director of mental health services. Betsey is a nurse.

Mike Pedneau said the years in cuts to services for people with mental illness and the more recent decision by Republican leaders not to expand Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians to show their displeasure with President Barack Obama was having a devastating impact.

"Not funding Medicaid is criminal," he said. "I'm especially concerned by what is happening to homeless veterans."

Sally Johnson of Burlington, a retired school librarian, stood nearby.

Asked what issue brought her there to be arrested, the 74-year-old woman replied: "There are so many unjust things happening you can't narrow it to just one."

With her was Kristin Frescoln, of Chapel Hill, the former manager of the state's drug treatment courts. She lost her job in 2011 when the legislature largely defunded the program in favor of sending more offenders to prison. She was following in the footsteps of her daughter, a college student arrested at the legislature two weeks ago.

"We have to bring attention to what is happening here," Frescoln said. "It's our obligation in a democracy to speak out."

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