Skip to main content

Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in 12 separate Women’s March events across North Carolina on Saturday, January 21st. Protest organizers estimated that 17,000 marchers gathered in Raleigh, and 10,000 each in Charlotte and Asheville. 700 souls rallied together in the eastern North Carolina town of New Bern, population 30,000.

March organizers in the state capital of Raleigh, which witnessed the largest demonstration of the day, issued a mission statement outlining their vision:

“North Carolina has been on the front lines of the struggle for democracy and progress. But our state legislature is trying to raise a #NewConfederacy.

Racism is the cornerstone of the strategy to implement minority rule to the detriment of all. We seek to lift up the leadership of women and trans people of color.

…We represent the #SilencedMajority. We’re seeing the results of a decades-long Right-wing coup (vote suppression, racist gerrymandering, Citizens United, mass incarceration) to institute permanent minority rule…”

Both the audience and the speaker’s rostrum at the march in Raleigh reflected the diverse demographics of North Carolina. And the issues addressed from the stage were multi-faceted. MaryBe McMillan, Secretary-Treasurer of the state AFL-CIO, called for a higher minimum wage while noting that women workers are paid a fraction of their male counterparts. Yazmin Garcia Rico, a leader in the state’s immigrant justice movement, warned of the danger of mass deportations and the harm that an end to DACA would do to the state.


As IREHR readers are well aware, the huge turnout in North Carolina did not occur in a vacuum. For the past several years, faith, community, and labor organizations have joined forces in the Forward Together Moral Movement to push back against racism and extremism in the state. The organizing theory undergirding this activity is “fusion politics” – a politics that is anti-racist, anti-poverty and pro-labor at its core.

Reverend William Barber II, who has led the Forward Together movement since its inception, described fusion politics in a recent interview with Roland Martin:

“We are not really engaged in a left – right debate…What we have is a deep moral crisis, a deep Constitutional crisis, and we are seeing almost a front-end attempt to thwart the possibility of a third Reconstruction…

The Reconstructionists always understood that the greatest fights were statehouses and right now, where are we having the worst policies for criminal justice — statehouses, where are seeing cuts in public education — statehouses, where the attack is going on voting rights — statehouses.

“Movements have to be built from the bottom up and Reconstruction language, moral language, gives us a different kind of way to talk and a different kind of way to organize — being able to bring Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and gays and straights, even Republicans and Democrats together.”

Although Dr Barber is careful to point out that the power of a movement is not to be judged by the outcome of single elections, the Forward Together movement saw real victories at the state-wide level in 2016. Governor Pat McCrory, who refused to expand Medicaid and oversaw the passage of voting rights restrictions and HB2 (the so-called “bathroom bill”), was ousted by Roy Cooper in the race for governor. And Mike Morgan, an African American judge, was elected to the state Supreme Court by a margin of 300,000 votes.

Next up for North Carolina is the annual Moral March on Raleigh on February 11, timed to coincide with the opening session of the General Assembly. Past Moral Marches have drawn as many as 80,000 participants.

Those of us who hope to build on the nationwide success of the Women’s Marches will do well to learn the lessons of fusion organizing in North Carolina.

Ben Stewart

Author Ben Stewart

More posts by Ben Stewart