Dozens arrested at Capitol protests

Moral Monday activists target Deal on Medicaid expansion

Reporter Janel Davis contributed to this article.

Moral Monday Georgia activists saved their largest acts of civil disobedience for one of the busiest days of the legislative calendar, staging a series of protests around the state Capitol.

Police arrested 41 people Tuesday in a rolling series of protests on three floors of the Capitol. Among those arrested were Ebenezer Baptist Church pastor Raphael Warnock and Francys Johnson, president of the state NAACP.

Late in the afternoon, the Rev. Timothy McDonald of Concerned Black Clergy smiled and rocked on his heels while Capitol police and Georgia State Patrol troopers corralled the last of the protesters into a basement committee room.

“We made our point,” said McDonald, who was not arrested. “It’s a good day.”

The protests, which came on Day 39 of the 40-day legislative session, touched on a range of issues from education to abortion rights to voting rights. But Gov. Nathan Deal’s decision not to expand the state’s Medicaid roster under the Affordable Care Act was the primary target.

About 100 supporters of Moral Monday Georgia, which involves people from a range of organizations, gathered in the rotunda shortly after lunch. They were there to hear a series of fiery, sermonlike speeches from area ministers, activists and two Democratic state senators. In his speech, Warnock, who preaches from the pulpit once occupied by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., took Deal to task for 650,000 uninsured Georgians who could be covered if Medicaid were expanded.

“These are not numbers,” he said. “These are our neighbors.”

Warnock said Deal was on the wrong side of history and compared him to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus, and Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who tried to block the integration of the University of Alabama.

“History will not be kind to governors who stand in front of hospital doors,” he said.

After his speech, Warnock marched with supporters to Deal’s office, and after a brief news conference, sat in the Capitol foyer and waited to be arrested.

“Every day at the Capitol is a celebration of the First Amendment, even when those rights are used for inflammatory and offensive name calling,” said Deal spokesman Brian Robinson. “Gov. Deal‎ respects the opinions of those who disagree with him. He often talks with Georgians about his positions and why he holds them — and he does so in a way that doesn’t drag this discourse into the gutter.”

Other Republicans at the Capitol voiced their support for the governor’s decision while criticizing the federal law commonly called Obamacare.

Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta, likened the federal government’s lobbying for Medicaid expansion to the sales tactics used by car salesmen.

The Obama administration is making “a troubled program less solvent” on the backs of the country’s needy and low-income population, he said.

“It is not the lifeline, as some project,” Hill said. “This is a bill that Georgia and America cannot afford.”

Protest organizers said 11 others were arrested with Warnock. Following those arrests, another 13 protesters were arrested when they attempted to block the door to the Senate.

Earlier in the day, Capitol police removed 16 people from the Senate gallery following staggered protests urging Deal to reverse course.

“Our lives matter,” one group chanted. “Medicaid expansion.”

Deal has said the state cannot afford the expansion once federal aid for the program disappears.

The Affordable Care Act would require the federal government to cover 100 percent of the costs for the first three years, with its share declining to no less than 90 percent thereafter.

The Senate was targeted by the protesters partly because of bills such as House Bill 707, which forbids any state or local official from assisting in the implementation of Obamacare. That bill is in the Senate, having already passed the House.

According to police, the protesters face misdemeanor charges under a state law forbidding loud protests at the Capitol.

Moral Monday Georgia has staged a variety of protests throughout the legislative session, usually on Mondays, as the name suggests. Prior to Tuesday, police had made more than 30 arrests connected to the protests. The Georgia group is an offshoot of a movement that has been growing in North Carolina and has spread to a few other Southern states.