“Moral Monday” protests, which began more than a month ago with 17 arrests, are starting to get real.

A crowd of roughly 1,500 people, almost three times larger than any previous protest, gathered on Halifax Mall behind the Legislative Building Monday. Another 151 were then arrested after entering the Legislative Building and refusing to disperse.

Monday’s wave of protests brings the arrest total to 304.

The protests have been organized by a coalition of progressive organizations, which is headed up by the state branch of the NAACP, in response to a dizzying array of legislation, from cutting Medicaid and unemployment benefits to funneling public money into private schools, raising taxes on the poor and lower middle-class, and limiting early voting.

Allen Wellons, a former state senator (D-Johnston), was among those that chose to be arrested. “I just couldn’t sit back and watch this happen anymore,” said Wellons as he walked into the Legislative Building hand in hand with a line of others who planned to participate in civil disobedience. “They [Republican leaders] are taking chances with the future of our children, the elderly, poor people and just the average citizen.”

Sen. Thom Goolsby (R- New Hanover) was one of just a handful of legislators that watched demonstrators as they blocked the Senate chambers. He echoed sentiments previously expressed by other conservative legislators, applauding citizens who are willing to commit civil disobedience, but said he’s not reconsidering the reforms currently underway. “We were elected based on a set of promises and we will continue to carry them out.”

The majority of protesters were white, but the age range was more diverse than in previous weeks. A group of 10 teachers from Hillside High School in Durham, all in their 20s, were among the crowd. Jessie Odom, 25, said she had been educated about proposed changes in public education by her fellow teachers in previous weeks and decided to join the growing movement.

“When I talk to my friends who teach at other schools, I don’t get the sense that they know about everything that’s happening,” said Odom. “But that’s why we’re out here.”

“150 people getting arrested and thousands protesting, as opposed to business as usual at the legislature, throws a spotlight on what’s happening,” said Katie Barnhill, another Hillside teacher. “This might bring someone to think about what’s happening in a way they hadn’t before.”

“They are starting to wake up a sleeping giant,” said Yevonne Brannon, a longtime Wake County organizer. “It’s called the middle class.”

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