CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:
As you heard, North Carolina's legislature has passed some tighter voting restrictions. But that's just one of the issues that's been driving Moral Mondays. Moral Mondays is a series of demonstrations by religious and progressive activists taking place at North Carolina's state capital.
Thousands have protested against Republican-led legislation on issues ranging from abortion rights, education funding to unemployment benefits. More than 900 people have been arrested at the protests. Now that the legislative session is over, we're joined by Moral Monday organizer Reverend William Barber. He's the president of North Carolina's NAACP. Reverend, welcome to the program.
WILLIAM BARBER: Welcome, and thank you so much for the opportunity to be on and to be with your listeners.
HEADLEE: What's the objective, what's the goal for Moral Mondays? Is it to get legislators to actually reconsider or vote differently on some of these bills, or was it just a way to voice your dissatisfaction?
BARBER: Well, first of all, we believe that what this legislature is doing is immoral and extreme and bad public policy. And we believe that, particularly in the South and in the nation, we need a new moral discourse, a new constitutional discourse in politics that's not limited by the narrow terms of liberal versus conservative or even Republican versus Democrat. The fact of the matter is, to cut 500,000 people, poor people, black and white, from Medicaid is immoral, extreme and bad public policy.
To deny 175,000 North Carolinians of their employment and to do something no other state in the union has done, to cut 30,000 additional children from preschool, to undermine earned income tax credit for 900,000 people - that even Ronald Reagan said was good to deal with poverty - so that you can give 23 families, wealthiest families, a tax cut, to rewrite the tax code in a way that a person making $40,000 will pay the same amount as someone making a million dollars, and then to attack the fundamental foundation of our democracy, which is voting, to commit a crime against democracy by ending same-day registration, early voting, not allowing paid voter registration drives, not allowing 17- or 60-year-olds to register early.
And in a way, you're really denying, well, undermining over 500,000 people access to the poll through a new voter ID that's worse than Alabama, South Carolina. These things are not just Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative. They're immoral. They're extreme. And they're bad public policy. So we began Moral Monday to drive home that discussion, to change the normal conservative idea of morality as only being listed to prayer in the school, sexuality and issues of gender.
HEADLEE: Right, except Reverend, if I could break in here for a moment, I'm sure that the Republicans who are voting on this legislation feel like they're moral, as well. I mean, to a certain extent, they feel like the protesters are sore losers. They won an election. This was - these were the plans that they'd had when they were running for office. They got into office, and now they're carrying them out.
BARBER: Exactly, they do feel like they're moral. And that's why we have to challenge them on this basis. Our deepest moral values talk about loving your neighbor, doing justice, not doing harm and hurting the least of these. Our deepest Constitutional values talk about the good of the whole, the common good, you know, providing for the general welfare. And often, there has not been a critique that has been leveled against them that raises those issues.
What we have found since we have done Moral Mondays, less than one out of five North Carolinians now agree with the legislature. Moral Monday is more popular than they are. The governor's poll numbers have dropped over 20 to 30 percent. They've done 180-degree turn in the state in 180 days, and North Carolinians across this state are fed up with it. We had hoped that by doing civil nonviolent disobedience that they would come to their senses, but we also knew that, in that tradition, if they did not come to their senses, our work was to wake up the consciousness and the senses of the people of North Carolina. And it has, we've done that across this state, across the nation, and now we're organizing like never before.
Our lawyers, like Allison Riggs and Anita Earls, and Advancement Project and other groups are ready to kick in and do the things we've got to do legally. Pulpits are catching on fire across this state. There is an organizing fervor like we have not seen since the 1960s that is beginning right here in North Carolina. This is our Selma.
HEADLEE: And yet, and yet, I mean, to say that the legislature's unpopular, you're not, that's not really saying much, right? I mean, Congress is, not only state legislatures but the federal Congress, not real popular among people. And all of the bills that you are protesting went through.
BARBER: Oh, sure, but I would disagree with, it's not saying much. You know, that's not to know history. Bills went through in this country before, but look at the record. The history is littered with those who engaged and had temporary power engaged in temporary injustice, but they lost. George Wallace lost. Lester Maddox lost. Even Plessy v. Ferguson that was passed in 1896 ultimately lost in 1954.
HEADLEE: Plessy v. Ferguson is the Supreme Court decision...
BARBER: Supreme Court decision.
HEADLEE: ...of separate but equal.
BARBER: Right, right, remember, that it was, that this country and this legislature - these state legislatures, they see, for instance, the Shelby decision, just like radical racists or the 1877 pullout of federal troops. They believe that because the Shelby decision, now they have an all-out freedom to do what they want to. But the 15th Amendment is still the law of the land. The 14th Amendment is still the law of the land. Article 6 of our state Constitution is still the law of the land, which says that many of the things this legislature has done is illegal, and so these things have to be tried in the court and in the place of public opinion. And we still have an election coming in 2014.
And if you go back to the election of this past year, they gerrymandered districts. Actually, more people voted for progressives than did the regressive forces. But because of the gerrymandering of districts, they won. And we just appealed that to the state Supreme Court. So our fight is not momentary. It has a long view. We still believe the moral lock of the universe bends towards justice. And that's why it's significant, that in a Southern state, while they continue to claim they have, they're doing what their voters elect them to do, we have seen their numbers plummet, because most people in this state, when we get beyond black and white to what's right and what's wrong, are deciding they do not want to see this state go backwards the way that they're beginning to take us.
HEADLEE: Reverend William Barber, the president of North Carolina's NAACP, the organizer of Moral Mondays. He joined us from Raleigh, North Carolina. Reverend, thank you so much.
BARBER: Thank you, and God bless you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.