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Protesters Would Not Leave Thom Tillis' Office Last Night; Here's What Happened, Hour By Hour

The scene in House Speaker Thom Thillis' office in the middle of the night.
Jorge Valencia

Fourteen people were arrested overnight at the General Assembly after sitting in and demanding to speak with House Speaker Thom Tillis. They were there lobbying for more than 10 hours with organizers of the Moral Monday protests.
It started out with people chanting hymns. They went to Tillis' office at 3:30 p.m. Protesters included pastors and low-wage earners from fast-food restaurants, places like Wendy's and Bojangle's. They wanted to tell Tillis that North Carolina should expand Medicaid and unemployment benefits. But Tillis wasn't in his office, he was presiding over a House of Representatives session. Then he left the building. But the demonstrators waited, and continued chanting.
After 9 p.m., when the Legislative Building officially closed, the protesters were still waiting.

About once every half hour late Wednesday and early this morning, General Assembly Police Lieutenant Martin Brock told the protesters they were trespassing ... and could be arrested.
"Does everyone understand?" Brock asked. "The building's closed and you're free to leave at any time. I'm asking you to leave."

Last year, more than 900 demonstrators with the Moral Monday movement were arrested while protesting in the building. This summer, the state chapter of the NAACP is working to mobilize voters and citizen lobbyists.

Professor David Zonderman of NC State University gave talking points to the protesters about  expanding unemployment benefits.
"This is good for the state. We can do it without breaking our own budget," he said. "We don't pay back our debts with the least able to do it. And this is not putting people back to work. It's driving them further underground and more desperate, and that's not what we ought to be doing."

Dozens of volunteers went to lawmaker offices in the whole building. But the only sit-in was in the offices of Speaker Tillis, who is also North Carolina's Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.

As the night wore on, people huddled in sleeping bags, eating pizza and fried chicken.

Police warned them eight times, and protester Rubye Harris asked a question.
"I mean, you keep saying we're going to get arrested if we don't leave the premises. We're still here, so we're not leaving. So what's going to happen when we don't leave?" she asked.

"This is your sixth time in here," she told the officer.

Brock replied: "It's my hope that you will leave."

Harris said: "We will be here until Thom Tillis gets here in the morning."
The last police visit was at about 2 a.m.

An arrest, in progress. Thom Tillis' office
Credit Jorge Valencia
An arrest, in progress.

Officers zipped plastic ties around the demonstrators' wrists and took them to the Wake County Detention Center.

Tillis' staff declined to comment on the sit-in, but Republican leaders have said their policies to not expand welfare programs, like unemployment, have encouraged people to find jobs.

Early in the morning, the only job left was that of Tillis' legislative assistant, Will Morales, who was in the office all night. He threw away pizza boxes, rolled up sleeping bags and vacuumed the carpet. He said the office would need to be clean because Tillis will be in early and has a busy day ahead.

Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun.
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