Moral Monday: Duke Professors Arrested in Civil Protest Against Legislation


In North Carolina, a diverse and growing group of protesters has begun showing up to the state General Assembly as part of a “Moral Monday” campaign to protest legislation they say undercuts economic and social progress. The protests, which began April 29, have led to 153 arrests including professors and students from Duke University, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, among others.

The protesters united against the Republican-led legislature’s plans to cut Medicaid, workers’ rights, voting rights, and decrease public education funding. Many educators, including Patricia Saylor, a middle school teacher fears that the legislative policies will hurt North Carolina’s universities.

“There are so many (bad legislative policies), I can’t keep up,” Saylor said. “It’s (affecting) universities, too. Our university and public education system are one thing that draws people to our state.”

The weekly crowd, set to continue meeting through June, gathers around a fountain in the state house and begins singing hymns, at which point the police order protesters to disperse and arrest all those who remain. They were charged with violation of building rules, failure to disperse and trespassing. Although a civil disobedience protest, the protesters do not resist arrest, and officers treat the protesters with respect. Duke professor Bruce Orenstein recalls one black officer thanking him because he “would not be here” if it weren’t for civil disobedience.

As Duke professor of public policy and history Bob Korstad explains, the civil disobedience campaigns were born to protest the Republicans harmful austerity measures. “The primary policy that the Republicans are putting in place is a policy of austerity — that the government should be as small as possible, taxes as low as possible and that a disengaged government is one that provides the most freedom for citizens and, in their view, the best opportunity for economic growth and development,” he said.

Chafe, Duke Professor of history, says he got involved because “We saw ourselves as really speaking as people who have worked hard on both documenting and creating the history of North Carolina that this legislature is now trying to dismantle. We wanted to set an example of how people with established reputations were willing to demonstrate their conviction that the legislature is pursuing a totally wrong direction.”

In November the legislature rejected a Medicaid expansion to cover the uninsured, signed a law that will deny health care to about half a million low-income state residents by rejecting Medicaid funding, and have been cutting unemployment benefits as well as pre-school education funding.

Thanks to Duke Chronicle writer Danielle Muoio for her interviews.