Cover Story: Protest organizers plan next step

By Steve Ohnesorge   bio l email

MAIDEN, NC  (WBTV) – People living along Providence Mill Road in Maiden say they are relieved that the massive protest has come and gone and their quiet neighborhood remains as it was. "I think the sheriff did a very good job," said Charlene Counts, who lives across the street from the church where Pastor Charles Worley made anti-gay remarks in a sermon two weeks ago. Counts and others who live near the church were concerned that protesters would come to their neighborhood this past weekend. Some drove by but no one stopped that they say, said Josue Velazquez. "Sheriff Department was here all day and now everything looks good."

An estimated 2000 people attended the protest which was held at the Justice Center in Newton. Most were there to protest the pastor's remarks though there were some counter-protesters too.  "We didn't come across any major problems," said Sheriff Coy Reid. "There was some heated exchange of words but it didn't escalate beyond that."

Lauran Tipton who organized the event said it showed that the people protesting could be peaceful and respectful in their message. "It was such a success," she said.  Tipton said she hopes the message behind the protest will grow into something else in Catawba County. "I'm not sure what yet but I will be talking to people about it."

In the meantime, county officials have indicated they will review the process to apply to use county property for various events including protests. The protest group did not meet all the requirements to get approved for such an event as was held Sunday but a provision within the ordinance allows the county manager to waive requirements is "It is in the public's interest." County Manager Tom Lundy approved the application just hours after it was submitted. One official, who did not want to be named, said the county was faced with a protest that was going to happen with or without their approval. The worry was that without a place to hold it, protesters would indeed wind up on Providence mill Road outside of Pastor Worley's church. That was a situation no one wanted.  Allowing the protest at the Justice Center would provide better security. The county will be looking at the ordinance to find the best way to "fine tune it" to be fair to all sides, be constitutional, and be the best fit for Catawba County. No timetable has been set.