RALEIGH — Hundreds of protesters who want the state to get back to work on May 1 flocked to Raleigh for the second week in a row.
Crowd estimates in the early part of the protest hovered between 150 to 200, but by noon the crowd had grown significantly in size. The parking lot which was the staging area was completely full, forcing latecomers to find parking on the street amongst the throng of police vehicles.
Citizens from as far as Boone and Charlotte traveled to Raleigh to participate in the “Reopen NC” protest. Bullhorns blared and car horns honked continuously throughout from around 10:30 a.m. until well after 1 p.m.
Karen Sergent-Rakers came from Snow Hill in Greene County, over an hour away. She’s one of many in attendance who owns a small business shuttered due to the stay-at-home order and essential business restrictions.
Sergent-Rakers owns a custom sign company and her stenciled and framed protest sign is ornate compared to the sea of poster board and marker creations around her. She is one of many small business owners who are not eligible for unemployment or small business loans from the federal government.
Like many others at the protest, Sergent-Rakers says she has “fallen through the cracks.” A mother of three with two toddlers in tow nearby agrees and says that “we’re are on the verge of collapse out here.”
The protesters did not remain with their cars in the parking lot this time. Instead, the crowd flooding onto Jones Street where they were met by Raleigh police on Fayetteville Street. The police had blocked entry to Fayetteville Street with police motorcycles.
While blocked by police, protesters chanted “Cooper is not our king” and “lock him up!” Eventually, the crowd reversed course and proceeded to march around several blocks of downtown Raleigh, including in front of the Executive Mansion.
During the protest, Reopen NC Co-Founder Ashley Smith addressed the media in attendance.
“To be crystal clear – today’s event is NOT an act of civil disobedience, but rather, it is an exercise of our Rights as granted by, and protected by, the Constitution,” Smith said.
Smith said that the Reopen NC Facebook group had grown to over 60,000 members and that if that number didn’t get the attention of elected officials, including Governor Cooper, she doesn’t know what will.
“Elected officials seem to be of the belief that this health crisis gives them the power to override our precious, inalienable God-given rights crafted by our great nation’s Founders and bestowed upon us by Our Creator,” Smith said.
“Make no mistake Governor Cooper – the 1st Amendment is 1st for a reason – the design was no accident,” Smith said, adding that everyone has the right to assemble peacefully, exercise free speech and worship as they see fit.
“We also have the right to free commerce – to work and earn a living to support ourselves and our families,” said Smith. “To suppress those rights of the citizens of this great state is both a dereliction of your duties and, a contradiction to the very oath of office you swore to uphold as governor.”
Smith reiterated the point of Reopen NC was to get the state opened back up no later than May 1. She said Reopen NC’s goal was to do that “safely and intelligently” but not on the timeline the governor set out. Smith called Cooper’s timeline a “moving goalpost” that needs to stop.
Several state legislators were on hand, including Sen. Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell), Rep. Jerry Carter (R-Rockingham) and Rep. Michael Speciale (R-Craven).
Sawyer said she came out to support the First Amendment rights of the people and to also hear directly from people attending these protests.
“There are so many folks here who are just begging for North Carolina to have a plan to reopen,” said Sawyer. She went on to say she can understand why people are angry and said there has been consistent trouble getting “solid data” from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
Speciale said he was happy to see the citizens standing up for their rights and that there “is no way in the world” that the stay-at-home order needs to go beyond the end date set for the end of April. Speciale also said he didn’t believe K-12 schools would be brought back into session to finish out the 2019-2020 school year.
Mark Robinson, the Republican candidate for Lt. Governor, showed up to express his support. Robinson said that he came out to support small business owners. He said that safety precautions need to be observed, but that “We need to allow small business people to get back to work to feed their families.”
Congressman Dan Bishop (R-09), donning a mask, was also on hand. He said it was an “easy call” to show up to the Reopen NC protest given the tweet last week by the Raleigh Police which read “protesting is not an essential activity.”
“This group here today represents the majority of North Carolinians and they are here to remind Roy Cooper and other officials that Constitution isn’t suspended – it’s not under a stay-at-home order,” said Bishop.
The congressman called out a lack of disclosure and transparency on the data by the Cooper administration. Bishop said that the shutdown just can’t keep continuing with no end or plan in sight.
The grassroots reopen movements that have sprung up around the country Bishop says are “reasserting fundamental ideals.” He said the onus is on the governors to justify why they continue to keep their states under stay-at-home orders.
“It’s really not up to government to classify us as essential or not essential people,” said Bishop. “We are all essential people.”