After parading down Main Street, protestors converged on the lawn of the historic courthouse with chants of “We’re fed up! We’re fed up!”
Protestors decried the dismantling of public education, an assault on the poor and needy, cuts to social programs and shifting more of the tax burden to the middle and lower class.
“It’s the greediest bunch I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Jack Gentry, one of the protestors. “They don’t want nobody to have nothing but the rich people.”
The outpouring was organized by the Haywood County Democratic Party to lend its voice to the ongoing Moral Monday protests playing out at the N.C. General Assembly in Raleigh. Thousands have been marching on the legislative building in Raleigh every week to convey their outrage, including weekly demonstrations of civil disobedience.
The protests — in Raleigh and in Waynesville — should send a powerful message to legislators that the people are watching, said Janie Benson, chair of the Haywood Democrats.
“We are watching the laws being passed, laws that will serve the very few, laws that will hinder and hurt our working families, our children and our old — and we are fed up,” Benson said, eliciting a rousing round of applause and chanting.
The dozens of signs wielded by protestors touched on a gamut of issues, from library budget cuts to the loss of teacher’s assistants. “Kids not cuts,” “Class size matters,” “Stand up for Head Start,” “North Carolina is not for sale,” and “Health care for all” were among the messages on display.
Education was one of the top themes of the protest. Not only cutting public schools, but the entire spectrum of education will see cuts, from subsidies for poor kids to go to preschool to colleges and universities.
“Our current state government does not have my generation’s best interest at heart,” Justin Conley, a leader of N.C. Young Democrats from Franklin, told the crowd. “These lawmakers are giving us a North Carolina we don’t want to inherit.”
Several retired teachers were in the ranks of the march, including Wanda Caldwell, donning a T-shirt that read: “Teachers plant the seeds that harvest the future.”
Caldwell said the legislators are dismantling the public schools by siphoning resources away to charter schools and private schools serving select student bodies.
A couple of speakers called out Republican legislators for denying Medicaid expansion for an additional 500,000 North Carolinians at federal expense.
“Those are our friends and family members,” said Conley, prompting a few in the crowd to cry out “Shame!”
Ray Rapp, a former Democratic state representative from Madison County, said the Republican-controlled legislature and governor’s mansion is being controlled by “Greed not need.”
Tax cuts are being handed out to the wealthy and special interests in exchange for the campaign contributions they made to help the Republicans get elected, Rapp said.
One of the state’s top Democratic voices journeyed to Waynesville for the protest, bearing a golden bell which he rang as he took the microphone.
“I have been moving around the state with this bell to wake people, but I see you don’t need it in Haywood County. You are awake and ready to go,” said Bob Etheridge, a former Democratic Congressman in North Carolina and state superintendent of public instruction.
Etheridge said Democrats didn’t do enough to stop the Republican take-over of state government in the last election and will now pay a terrible price.
“We are fighting to keep them from totally destroying what we worked for our entire lives,” Etheridge said. “We aren’t going to let them take North Carolina to the bottom.”
The crowd was told not to lose the fire in their bellies before 2014, when all the seats in the state House and Senate will be for election.
“Let’s stay fed up until the next election and do something about it,” said Phil Haire, a retired Democratic state representative from Sylva.