Raging grannies, student groups, professors, internationally known physicians, historians, members of the NAACP, all are coming together to protest at the General Assembly of North Carolina and to place themselves at risk of arrest. Acts of civil disobedience have swept Raleigh, the state capital, and are planned to recur well into the future. Blame it all on the Tea Party.
Four months ago, Tea Party candidates took over the state government–both chambers of the General Assembly, as well as the governorship. Together, the newly elected office holders have been hellbent on eviscerating every social program they can get their hands on in the name of doing “the people’s business.” Among the proposals that have been introduced are a $200 million cut to state universities, shortening early voting, totally eliminating both Sunday voting and same-day voters’ registration, easing environmental restrictions on fracking, cutting benefits to the unemployed (already signed into law), refusing federal dollars for Medicaid expansion for the poor, and–oh, yeah–establishing an official state religion.
Some of the “people” take exception to the idea that these actions are a proper expression of the people’s will. Those are the ones showing up with their signs to be arrested at the state capital. They are the ones who intend to continue showing up at the state legislature on “Moral Mondays,” an effort that has already brought about 50 arrests. According to News Observer, the protesters don’t think that the legislators are going to suddenly listen to them. Instead, they “hope to persuade others to rise up with them and raise their voices to a future that might bring a political shift in 2014.”
This past Monday, twenty-two members of the NAACP were arrested including the president of North Carolina’s chapter, Rev. William Barber and his 20 year-old son, several professors from Duke University and the University of North Carolina, and internationally known physician and professor, Charles Van Der Horst. Reverend Barber described efforts at a dialogue with the legislators and the governor:
“They’ve turned a deaf ear to that. We want them to look the people in the eye – the people who won’t get Medicaid, the children who won’t get early childhood education – and tell them what they’re doing.
“We say, ‘If your policy is so good, then look those people in the eye and tell them why you’re doing what you’re doing.’ ”
The NAACP plans to fan out across the state and educate citizens about the impact of the proposed bills. They have also turned an eye toward raising money and recruiting candidates to run in 2014. Barber continued:
“It takes time for people to understand what’s really happening to them and what the issues are. We call this the avalanche effect, what’s going on there, and we don’t want people to experience this avalanche without knowing what’s coming. What they’re doing is regressive, extreme and race-based.”
The concerns are being expressed in many different voices, in many different ways. Dr. Van Der Horst, a pioneer in AIDS research and preventative medicine, spent a night in jail bonding with other protesters. He objected to the way the Tea Party politicians represent themselves–for instance, on abortion–saying :
“These people don’t believe in the sanctity of life. They believe in protecting their own wealth and their own power.”
History professor William Chafe, who was also jailed, worries that this legislature is going to destroy the history to which he has devoted his life:
“We thought it was important to stand up and be heard. We hope that as respected historians, who some would call eminent, we can reach out to others and stir them to speak out.”
Vicki Ryder, 71, of the”Raging Grannies” activist group, isn’t thinking about the past; she’s worried about the future. Also arrested, she had this to say:
“One of our sayings is ‘Stay in Trouble’ and that’s what we intend to do because we have to fight against anything that threatens the future of our grandchildren.”
One of the biggest surprises is that this confluence of raised consciousness and loud liberal voices is happening in North Carolina. Not that the South is a stranger to civil disobedience, of course. Black churches and leaders like Martin Luther King blazed the trail toward a more enlightened society in the 60s, but student and academic voices at the time came from places recognized as liberal bastions–places like UC Berkeley and University of Michigan, for example.
What’s happening in North Carolina–and that it’s happening in North Carolina–may be the greatest sign of hope this country has seen in a long, long time. If there is a groundswell there, one just might be building that’s powerful enough to sweep the entire nation.