RALEIGH — Citizens concerned about current shopping and stay at home restrictions being extended have formed a Facebook group called “Reopen NC.”
The Reopen NC group describes itself as a “grassroots action group working towards a mutual goal to Reopen NC by no later than May 1, 2020.”
The group, which formed on April 7, had a membership that went from a few dozen to over 26,000 in a matter of a few days. As of the publication of this article, membership now stands at over 47,000.
“Our goals right now, in the short term, are to gather as many people as we can to put pressure on our elected officials and to have our voices be heard,” said Ashley Smith, Co-Founder of Reopen NC.
Smith and her husband are from Morganton and work in merchant services, whose customers include many small businesses.
Phone and email templates have been provided to Reopen NC members to call Gov. Roy Cooper and to contact their local, county and state officials. Several members say they attempted to contact the governor’s office and that Cooper’s staff hung up on them after they identified themselves.
On Tuesday, April 14 in Raleigh, Reopen NC protesters made themselves heard.
Citizens from all over the state stood with their cars in a parking lot near the legislature and honked their horns. Others walked along the sidewalk, carrying various signs asking the governor to reopen the state for business.
Raleigh Police eventually intervened and later said that one arrest had been made by the Capitol Police.
“The protestors are in violation of the Governor’s Executive Order and have been asked to leave,” tweeted the Raleigh Police Department (RPD).
According to the events listed by the Reopen NC Facebook page, additional similar protests are planned for the following weeks on April 21 and April 28.
In response to a question about what part of the governor’s order had been violated, the RPD tweeted that “protesting is not an essential activity.”
The RPD later would tweet a statement standing by their authority to arrest protesters and cited both the governor’s stay-at-home order and the Wake County emergency proclamation.
In addition, the RPD statement said that the Wake County District Attorney is the “individual who decides language for failure to adhere” to those orders, as well as when charging is appropriate and what charges a person might face. The statement also punted further questions to the Capitol Police.
The actions and statements by the RPD garnered a swift reaction from state lawmakers in the form of a letter to Gov. Cooper.
The letter, penned by Senate Judiciary Committee Co-Chairs Warren Daniel (R-Burke) and Danny Britt (R-Robeson), requested “urgent clarification” from Cooper regarding the actions of the Raleigh Police.
Daniel and Britt warned Cooper that if what the RPD asserted were true, this would be a “grave overstep” of the governor’s authority.
“Can you please clarify if your executive orders have prohibited the First Amendment right of North Carolinians to peacefully protest against your executive orders?” the senators asked Cooper in closing.
The day before the Reopen NC protest, Cooper held a press conference in which he did not name Reopen NC directly, but spoke against the idea of lifting restrictions and calling it a “catastrophe.”
During a press conference the day after the protest, and in a series of tweets, the Governor changed his position slightly. He reiterated that the “new normal” for North Carolina would happen in increments, while comparing the process of bringing business back to a “dimmer switch.”
“Experts tell us it would be dangerous to lift restrictions all at once. Rather than an on/off light switch, think about it more as a dimmer switch which can be adjusted incrementally,” said Cooper. “As we slowly bring the lights back up, we have to monitor for troubling signs of a spike in cases that could overwhelm our hospitals and risk lives.”
Reopen NC wants business back and the lights on their rights turned back on.
“Our resounding message to Governor Cooper and our elected officials is clear: End the Shutdown. We demand our rights be restored in full,” Reopen NC said in a press release.
“Residents are smart enough, and more importantly, have the right to decide their own comfort level with any and all pathogens and viruses, just like we have done for every other illness that has come through our state and nation. Cooper is not a King and we are not his subjects. He is an elected official granted his power only by the vote of the people,” the release says in part.
Smith said was aware of the rumors the governor plans to extend the stay-at-home order possibly through June.
“We are here to just loudly yell, NO!” Smith said. “We must have our state reopen by May 1 at the latest.”