10 more arrests in another round of demonstrations protesting NC Republican policies

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RALEIGH, North Carolina — Another 10 people opposed to Republican state government policies were arrested Wednesday inside the North Carolina Legislative Building, this time while demonstrating in support of raising the minimum wage.

General Assembly police led away in plastic handcuffs the nonviolent protesters associated with the Moral Monday movement, which has been holding regular rallies against GOP actions since 2013, leading to 1,000 arrests. The group chanted and sang as they visited the closed-door offices of House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger.

The demonstrators were to be charged with second-degree trespassing, according to General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver. The building has a 5 p.m. closing time, and police escorted them out of the building when they declined to leave. Twenty people were arrested two weeks ago when House and Senate members debating legislation inside their chambers said the activity of protesters in the adjoining atrium made it difficult to conduct business.

Those arrested Wednesday called attention to their effort to ask the legislature to place a statewide referendum on the ballot to raise the minimum wage from the current $7.25 per hour. More than 100 people attended an outside rally late in the afternoon between the Legislative Building and the old Capitol building to endorse the ballot question.

GOP legislative leaders have expressed no interest in raising the minimum wage. Some groups advocate for $15 per hour.

If Moore and Berger "are truly guided by the will of the people. If you honor the values of this democracy, ask the people if they believe we should raise the minimum wage," said the Rev. Robin Tanner, a Unitarian Universalist pastor in Charlotte. "Ask the people if they can survive on $7.25 an hour."

In advance of the rally, the state Republican Party accused the Moral Monday movement, which is led by the state NAACP but has dozens of partner groups, of being too closely aligned with labor unions interested in eroding North Carolina's right-to-work status.

Earlier Wednesday more than 300 people attended a separate rally on a mall within the state government complex urging state leaders to take action to protect eastern North Carolina communities — particularly those with high minority populations — from large-scale pork and chicken farms.

Local and national speakers said the industrial-scale farms disproportionate harm black and Hispanic residents living nearby with their odors and animal waste. Several groups filed a complaint last September with the Environmental Protection Agency, saying way the state regulates the farms violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Hundreds of residents have also sued the industry for damages over the odor in federal court.

Speakers said the rally was designed to remind state regulators and lawmakers that the farms' neighbors were still seeking help two decades after massive fish kills were caused by ruptured hog waste lagoons.

"The people of this state own the waterways of the state, and they own fisheries of the state and they own the air of the state," Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, told the midday crowd. It doesn't belong to the wealthy or pork industry executives, he added: "It belongs to the people."

After the rally, North Carolina Pork Council CEO Deborah Johnson said in a release it was "absurd" for anyone to claim the hog industry targets disadvantaged communities in siting farms and that operational improvements continue.

Most North Carolina hog farms are owned and operated by people who live in those communities, Johnson said: "They do not want to harm the air, the water or the land where their families live."

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