Who's Getting Arrested on North Carolina's Capitol Steps?

Demonstrators gather at Halifax Mall near the state legislature in Raleigh, N.C., on June 17, 2013 Photograph by Gerry Broome/AP Photo

Over the past several weeks in North Carolina, throngs of clergy members and other citizens have been parking themselves on the steps of the state capitol to pray, chant, and protest the conservative policies of the Republican-dominated legislature. Participants at the “Moral Monday” events decry the lawmakers for blocking the expansion of Medicaid, introducing voter ID laws, allowing hydraulic fracking in the state, and moving millions of dollars slotted for public education into a school voucher program. Many of the clergy members and other protesters are getting arrested for civil disobedience.

The conservative policies are in part the work of Art Pope. The chief executive officer of Variety Wholesalers was named the state’s budget director by Governor Pat McCrory this year. The largest political donor in North Carolina, Pope has funded a network of think tanks and nonprofits dedicated to promoting free-market policies. These groups poured outside money into local races that helped flip the North Carolina legislature from blue to red for the first time in more than a century, according to the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer.

The sight of religious leaders being arrested en masse has attracted national attention. Now one group funded by Pope, the Civitas Institute, is waging a social media campaign against the protesters. Its website features a game called “Pick The Protester, which lets players scroll through photos of arrested protesters’ police mugshots and answer such questions as, “Which protester has the last name Hawkins? Which protester is a professor? Which is a physician? Which is unemployed?

The game is silly and kind of lame. But Civitas has also compiled a database—“Anatomy of protesters”—that features graphs and charts detailing the demographics of the people arrested. “Questions have been raised about who is really involved in these protests,” said Civitas President Francis X. De Luca in a statement on the website. “We decided to get some answers. They provide surprising insights about those arrested and where they come from.” According to Civitas, the arrested protesters are most likely to be white and 55 to 64 years old. They’re more likely to work in the private sector than for the government or nonprofits. And the site provides a county-by-county breakdown of where in the state the protesters live.

As a pressure campaign to embarrass the protesters, the Civitas site doesn’t seem to be working very well; they’re still coming to the Moral Monday events and still letting themselves get arrested. But as a data exercise examining who protests and why, it’s fascinating.

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