(Raleigh, NC) – Seventeen people, including eight ministers, civil rights leaders, and students, were arrested for a prayerful protest at the state legislature in Raleigh, N.C., on April 29.

The activists were handcuffed and taken to jail while they sang and prayed in front of the locked doors of the North Carolina Senate. The nonviolent civil disobedience was the opening round in a series of protests to focus national attention on what Rev. Dr. William Barber, North Carolina NAACP state president, called “the ideologically driven, extremist, mean-spirited agenda” that has captured both legislative houses and the governor’s office.

“The decision to engage in civil disobedience is not one we take lightly,” said Barber. “But the extremists are acting like the George Wallaces of the 21stcentury. They are pursuing a cruel, unusual and unconstitutional agenda reminiscent of the Old South. What happens in North Carolina does not stay in North Carolina. It has national implications. North Carolina is ground zero in a national struggle to defend democracy for all.”

In the first 50 days of the North Carolina legislative session, the Republican-controlled legislature enacted polices that will adversely impact hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians. A recent poll from Publicpolicypolling.com found that most North Carolinians oppose this extreme and aggressive agenda. However, the legislature appears steadfastly committed to acting outside the best interest of the people of North Carolina.

This session, the legislature has rejected funding to expand Medicaid to cover 500,000 North Carolinians without health insurance; rejected more than $700 million in federal funds for unemployment benefits, affecting 170,000 laid off workers; cut the payroll tax credit for over 900,000 poor and working people, while giving a tax break to 23 of the wealthiest people in our State; planned to reduce access to pre-school and kindergarten; and attacked the right to vote with a series of voter suppression laws, including a voter ID bill that will disenfranchise nearly 500,000 voters.

“Love and justice demand a witness in the face of this regressive public policy,” Barber said. “The noblest sentiment of our constitution and deepest aspirations of our religious traditions summon us in the public square to enact policies that maintain a commitment to the protection of civil and human rights, the common good, the good of the whole, equal protection and justice for all, and the uplift of the poor and marginalized. Anything opposing these principles must be challenged.”

“This much is clear: the Republican-led legislature is standing in the way of progress and passing laws that violate fundamental constitutional rights. As leaders of moral conscience, we must draw the line somewhere. That is what this direct action is all about.”

The attack on voting rights seen in North Carolina is being mirrored in state legislatures across the country, particularly the South. Legislators are pursuing extremist, regressive agendas to block progress by making it hard for people to vote.

“Those most impacted by these policies are seniors, students, people of color and the working poor,” said Al McSurely, a civil rights attorney who works with the North Carolina NAACP. “Reverend Barber calls on all people of conscience to hold similar protests and direct actions in cities and states across the country, in solidarity with us in North Carolina.”

The activists were a diverse group ranging in age from 18 to 74. The ministers included: Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II; Rev. Jimmie R. Hawkins; Rev. Curtis Gatewood; Rev. Nelson Johnson; Rev. John Mendez; Rev. Maria Palmer; Rev. Larry Read; and Rev. Theodore Anthony Spearman. The group included three college professors, two students, and veteran civil rights leaders including Adam Sotak, Dr. Timothy Tyson, Margaretta Belin, O’Linda Gillis, Perri Morgan and Bob Zellner.