WASHINGTON -- More than 100 faith leaders and protesters affiliated with the Moral Monday movement staged a protest at the North Carolina legislature Wednesday, continuing for a third straight year to pressure lawmakers on issues such as income inequality and voting rights.
After Republicans took control of the governor's mansion and both chambers of the state legislature in 2012, the party's leadership moved swiftly to cut unemployment benefits, eliminate the earned income tax credit, slash corporate tax rates, cut education spending and restrict voting rights. The Moral Monday movement began in response to these actions, with thousands gathering weekly at the state capitol.
The group was not deterred by GOP wins in the state in 2014, the Rev. William Barber II, one of the movement's leaders, told The Huffington Post. Former State House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) -- whom Barber called the "architect" of the legislature's rightward shift -- defeated former Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) in a close race, and the GOP solidified veto-proof majorities in the state House.
"We believe we go into this year with a lot of momentum," Barber said. "Sure, [conservative legislators] are extremists and they will probably try to continue their extreme agenda, but it’s setting up a real showdown with the people."
The legislature has addressed raising teacher pay, an issue the Moral Monday movement champions. The minimum salary for a North Carolina public school teacher is expected to go up this year, following a controversial bump some teachers already received last year.
Moral Monday also hopes to push North Carolina to adopt Medicaid expansion as included in the Affordable Care Act. An estimated 500,000 North Carolinians would gain coverage if the state expanded the program. Some politicians in the state have recently come out in favor, and even Gov. Pat McCrory (R) has said he is considering pushing for expansion. He met with President Barack Obama earlier this month and raised the possibility of a waiver that would require employment or job training for residents to be eligible for the program.
But both state Senate President Phil Berger (R) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R) oppose Medicaid expansion, and the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law in 2013 barring any expansion without its approval.
Barber pointed to various polling data -- including those that show falling support for the legislature and increased support for Medicaid expansion -- to make the case that the movement has influenced public opinion. He also argued Tillis' narrow victory over Hagan demonstrated the movement's effectiveness in the months leading up to the election.
"They threw their best at us and the best they could do was a 1.6 percent margin, which actually has emboldened our people to say, if we keep organizing, building and litigating, we can turn this tide," he said.