- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 28, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - About nine hours after they first arrived, 15 demonstrators seeking a repeal of GOP legislative policies were still holed up in House Speaker Thom Tillis‘ office, and they pledged to stay there until the chamber’s top Republican and U.S. Senate nominee agreed to meet with them.

The protesters, still in place despite numerous appeals from police to leave, belong to the NAACP-led “Moral Monday” movement, a group that has been protesting GOP-backed laws since last year. The group held a lobbying day Tuesday during which various volunteers made the rounds visiting lawmakers’ offices, including that of the speaker.

“We will be here until Thom Tillis gets here in the morning,” said Rubye Harris, one of the 15 protesters.

In addition to their opposition to the GOP-backed laws, the demonstrators protested against new rules governing occupation of the Capitol that they say violate their freedom of speech. The NAACP said the protesters were fast-food workers and clergy members.

The Legislative Building closed at 9 p.m. Tuesday, a half-hour after lawmakers concluded their last meeting. At that point, Moral Monday leader and NC NAACP President William Barber, along with some of his supporters, complied with a police request to leave, but the 15 stayed behind to wait for Tillis, who did not appear. Tillis did not respond to a telephone message left by The Associated Press on Tuesday evening.

Police asked the 15 remaining protesters to leave five times, about every 30 minutes after the building closed.

The protesters first entered the speaker’s office just before the House convened Tuesday afternoon. They gathered around the desk of Tillis‘ aide, William Morales, voicing discontent with several GOP-backed laws and urging lawmakers to expand Medicaid and reinstate the Earned Income Tax Credit, which the Republican-controlled General Assembly let expire.

Tillis entered from the other side of the House chamber before rising onto the speaker’s dais.

Anna Roberts, a spokeswoman for Tillis, declined to comment on the demonstration. Tillis as a rule did not comment last year when demonstrators against Republican policies protested in acts of civil disobedience and hundreds were arrested inside the Legislative Building.

Tillis is in a heated Senate race this year, looking to unseat Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan. The outcome of North Carolina’s seat could decide the majority in the U.S. Senate.

Jeff Weaver, chief of the General Assembly Police, said he did not know what would happen to the people inside Tillis‘ office and had not decided how police would respond.

Police initially swarmed the hall in front of Tillis‘ office, but later dispersed when the House meeting ended. Demonstrators inside along with Barber held an unofficial news conference from Tillis‘ doorway, as his aide and the Sergeant-at-arms looked on.

“This shows the kind of games that they play,” Barber said. “Last year it was arrest them quick and get out, this year it’s game after game after game instead of coming to the table and repealing these laws that are hurting people.”

In hour four, pizza was delivered and the protesters inside and outside Tillis‘ office started a chorus of spirituals. A mix of police, news media, protesters and General Assembly staff milled about on the second floor of the Legislative Building, waiting, as those inside gave interviews and posed for pictures. Sleeping bags also arrived, along with more food, including Bojangles fried chicken, and cases of soda for protesters and onlookers.

Crystal Price, 27, of Greensboro, said she decided to participate because she is struggling to take care of her family on a minimum-wage salary. Price, who has cervical cancer, earns $400 a month making hamburgers at a Wendy’s outlet. She has two children and is uninsured.

“For them to go to the doctor to get a physical, to go to the dentist … I have to decide, do I get me done or get them done?” she said. She said she always chooses the children, but it’s a struggle.

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