I awoke at 3 AM to start the long trek to Raleigh. By a little past 4, I was at the meeting place for all Asheville marchers.
There were 5 buses and a massive crowd of people gathered. Many of the people who were there were older, though there was a wide array of ages, sexes and backgrounds represented.
Once I had checked in, I randomly selected a bus to board - AVL Bus #4. In that line, there were folks from Move To Amend, and Veterans For Peace, as well as teachers and retirees.
I struck up a conversation with a gentleman from the Veterans For Peace, and learned a great deal about what they do, and upcoming events.
About 300 people boarded the buses and departed for Raleigh around 4:30.
It was quiet on the bus for most of the ride down. It was still dark, and a lot of folks opted to nap along the way.
Via text, I communicated with my friends at Asheville Channel, who were driving ahead of me, with their satellite truck and camera equipment. They were arriving at the main stage area, while the buses were arriving at the start point of the march, near Shaw University.
Upon arrival, I walked along with a lady from the Hendersonville NAACP, taking a moment to record an interview with her. She had been there before, and was as inspired as ever for the movement.
As we approached Shaw University, a large crowd had gathered and there were preliminary speakers, including Christopher Sgro of Equality NC (whom we interviewed by phone earlier in the week). The people were clearly in a festive mood, despite the chill in the air.
Almost instantly, I ran into people I knew from the Asheville area, including Tom Sullivan of Scrutiny Hooligans. I saw an Asheville area teacher, named Abbey and her 4 friends who had driven down the night before (which a lot of folks had done.)
After chatting with a handful of people at the starting point, I made my way up the street toward the main stage. It was kind of surreal. The streets were closed off all the way up Fayetville Street. It was like something out of The Walking Dead.
As I got closer, there was more activity - mostly techies who were checking sound and making sure that things were working.
The Media/VIP area was a bit more lively, as cameras were put into position, and audio hook ups were arranged with the main board.
Within half an hour, word came down that the march had begun. I moved back down the abandoned street, along with a few other members of the press. In a few moments, the sounds of music playing could be heard, then the front of the march could be seen, banners held out proudly, behind them, signs held high and people chanted and sang.
It was a wild site to see a massive wall of people marching into the empty street, filling it and getting large and louder as they approached.
I returned to the media area, and watched as thousands of people grew nearer and nearer, stopping only a few feet from where I stood.
There was such a positive energy in the air. Many people held up signs. A man dressed in a red, white and blue outfit, climbed atop a perch and waved an America flag high above the crowd.
The crowd was a collection of many ages, races and backgrounds. A beautiful blend of America.
The program began with a variety of speakers, who delivered passionate, concise speeches about topics of concern: Voting rights, Medicaid Expansion, Labor, Education and Women's rights.
Asheville's own, Leslie Boyd was among the featured speakers about Healthcare, and she was one of the most well-recieved speakers, giving a powerful testimonial that brought roars of approval from the massive crowd.
Several times during the proceedings, the crowd was asked to take a few steps forward, to allow for more people to enter the mall area. It was apparent that there were thousands who were not yet able to enter the rallie area, due to the size of the crowd. In fact, people were spilling out into the streets that were not closed at the back of the mall area.
From a high vantage point, I saw more people that I could have imagined. Then I looked up, and saw more people in windows of the buildings and along the walls of the parking garage near us. The projections had been from at least 20,000 attendees, up from the 17,000 of last year's march. But from where I stood, it was quite obvious that the 20,000 estimate was well-eclipsed.
Finally, Reverend Barber took the stage to a warm welcome. Early on, there were microphone problems, which he struggled through. Though it was hardly a struggle. The crowds, watching the video screens, could see what was happening, and filled the void of technical difficulties with chants of: "Forward together, not one step back" (which has become the mantra of the movement.)
Reverend Barber used his pulpit powers to point out the contradictions of Christian behaviors and those of the GOP, who claim to be Christian. He called for those gathered to reach for "Higher ground" in all that they fight for.
The day was a bit chilly, and very overcast. However, in the final moments of the Reverend's speech, and for only a few minutes, the sun burst through the clouds and lit up the entire event. It was a moment that was not lost on any of those gathered. In fact, the sun coming out elicited a loud cheer from the crowd, and inspired the Reverend to acknowledge the moment.
It ended with song, but not as one might expect. Reverend Barber's theme of "higher ground" gave way to the sounds of Stevie Wonder's song of the same name, with Reverend Barber singing out the first lines of the song. (For a moment, I thought he was going to sing the whole song).
What followed was a joyous street dance party for about 10 minutes.
Then, just as peacefully and politely as they came, the crowd turned and marched away.
A few minutes later, I followed down the street, back toward the buses, having been left behind by the mass of people, and walking, again, a mostly empty street. It was kind of odd, and impressive that so many people came and went, so easily and so peacefully.
Numbers were coming in via social media, coming from officials, saying that they were projecting that between 80,000 and 100,000 people had attended. Which makes the seamlessness of it all, all the more impressive.
Back to buses and back on the road, we were all a bit more inspired and ready now, more than ever, to see the Moral Movement grow larger in 2014. And, if the Historic Thousands on Jones Street march of 2014 was any indication, the GOP in NC haven't seen anything yet.