RALEIGH, N.C. - An eclectic mix of more than 2,000 civil rights activists, anti-war protesters and low-income workers rallied behind one banner Saturday to demand North Carolina legislators pass a "people's agenda" this year.
"The forces against us don't know how powerful we are when we work together," the Rev. William Barber, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told the crowd that filled downtown Raleigh's Memorial Auditorium.
The group then marched one mile to the Legislative Building, where hundreds signed an 11-foot wooden "scroll" to endorse a 14-point action plan. The plan endorsed diverse concerns from expanding health care coverage to abolishing the death penalty and withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
Barber said the General Assembly has forgotten about the needs of ordinary people who struggle to make ends meet and still face racial discrimination and disparities in education and housing.
"The best way for this house to work is to work for all people," Barber said.
The NAACP spearheaded what was called the "Historic Thousands on Jones Street" _ a reference to the Legislative Building's address. More than 60 organizations participated or endorsed the event, from black Masons, the Latino group El Pueblo, union organizers and the North Carolina Green and Socialist parties.
Veterans of the civil rights movement marched with young people and families pushing baby strollers. Rosalind Fuse-Hall, 49, of Durham, brought her 16-year-old daughter, Ifetoya, to the rally to show her that "our people have a history of rallying for change."
"You can make a difference," Fuse-Hall said.
The participants also backed an agenda that included more education money to comply with the Leandro school-funding lawsuit; create a "living wage" that would be several dollars more than the current minimum of $6.15 per hours; and give collective bargaining rights to government employees.
The General Assembly has little say over the war in Iraq, but some urged state lawmakers to pass resolutions asking Congress to bring U.S. troops home. They said the billions of dollars spent on the war could be used at home to education children or raising families out of poverty.
Al McSurely, a long-time civil rights lawyer from Chapel Hill and NAACP leader, said it was important to bring together the anti-war and anti-racism movements. He said Martin Luther King Jr. did the same late in his life as opposition to the Vietnam War grew.
Wendy Michener of Fayetteville, who held a "Stop the War" banner during the march, said it was good to see so many people speaking in unison.
"The more foot soldiers we have, the more we can work together," Michener said. "More people are getting involved. It make a lot of energy."
The rally was held with the General Assembly adjourned for the weekend so that more working people could attend. A lobbying day was scheduled March 28 so activists could meet with legislators and press for the agenda.
Hopes within North Carolina's progressive movement are higher this year after Democratic victories in the November elections and the rise of Rep. Joe Hackney, D-Orange, to House speaker. Hackney has backed liberal causes during his legislative career, including environmental protections and a moratorium on the death penalty.
Sen. Larry Shaw, D-Cumberland, said he believed that lawmakers could pass some of the 14 action items this year but was realistic that their work was only starting Saturday.
"This is not a one-day event," Shaw said. "This is a movement."