Clyde actress jailedRaleigh protests go national
Actress Barbara Bates Smith, of Clyde, now has a Nov. 13, court date after being arrested for the first time in her life on July 1 for civil disobedience.
Getting arrested can be a traumatic experience for many people, but Smith giggled with excitement as she recounted her day at a Moral Monday Protest in Raleigh.
Each Monday, thousands of North Carolinians have been gathering at the Legislative Building in Raleigh to show their discontent over the way the new Republican majority is governing. The gatherings have been going on since April and about 700 protesters have been arrested.
“I had been hearing about it, and I wished I could be a part of it,” Smith said. "I just felt I needed to be there."
She is certain Doris “Granny D” Haddock, her most recent persona, would have been proud to see her get arrested while standing up for her right to protest. Granny D was a 90-year-old woman who garnered national attention in 2000 for walking across the U.S. pushing for campaign finance reform. Her work led to the passage of the McCain-Feingold Campaign finance Reform bill.
Smith said she went to the protest because she disagrees with the changes legislators are making with voting rights, women’s rights, education, health care and unemployment. The day she was there, July 1, was the day extended unemployment benefits were cut off for residents.
“It’s about human rights, and underlying all that, Granny D was about restoring democracy and looking out for the interest of the people,” she said.
The protests in Raleigh have garnered national news coverage as the demonstrations continue. The New York Times wrote an editorial July 9 called “The Decline of North Carolina.”
The editorial criticizes Gov. Pat McCrory and lawmakers for their decisions since taking control of the executive and legislative branches for the first time since Reconstruction.
“Since then, state government has become a demolition derby, tearing down years of progress in public education, tax policy, racial equality in the courtroom and access to the ballot,” the editorial stated.
“North Carolina has always been a progressive state, and I’ve been so proud to live here, but I’m so ashamed and embarrassed and disappointed and concerned about the people of North Carolina,” Smith said.
She knew when she traveled to the protest that she was going to be arrested. She marched toward the Legislative Building with hundreds of people — 60 of those people chose to enter the building to continue their demonstration. The protesters met for a briefing with Rev. William Barber, the state leader of the NAACP, to discuss the process and what would happen if they get arrested.
As the group headed toward the building, Smith said people were cheering on either side of her. Inside the building, many clergymen were speaking and leading prayers as officers stood all around them. An officer on a megaphone told the protesters that they were trespassing, creating a disturbance and violating the rules of the building. They were given five minutes to disperse before officers began handcuffing those who stayed.
“An officer handcuffed my hands behind my back, which was uncomfortable. These were things I’d seen only in movies — and they frisked me with my hands against the wall,” Smith said.
The group arrested was transported by bus to the Wake County Detention Center and placed into a holding area. This was the high point for Smith. She said one of the eight women she was in a cell with raised her arms up and started flipping her wrists to loosen up after being handcuffed for so long.
“We all started to do it to relieve the stress and that turned into dancing and laughing,” she said. “The officers outside the glass were trying not to look at us or be amused, but I think they were.”
The women also went around in a circle to introduce themselves and say why they chose to march and get arrested. Smith said she was enjoying the story circle and almost didn’t want to leave when the officers came to let them go. Some of the first protesters to be arrested in April stayed in jail through the night, but Smith and the other women she was with were released after three hours.
Even though McCrory and legislators seem to be carrying on without much notice of the protesters, Smith said she believed it was making a difference.
“It’s making a dent — that’s all we can do,” she said. “As Granny D would say, ‘all we can do is stand up and be a witness to the problem, and that’s what I felt I was doing.’”