Just when you thought the south couldn’t get any more backward (see Florida, Texas, Mississippi … first integrated prom), there comes a story that lets you know there really are people in that blighted area swimming fiercely against the tide of conservatism. While they are horribly outnumbered, southern progressives are a feisty bunch and none are feistier than the North Carolina group behind Moral Monday, an organized weekly protest against the state’s GOP agenda. The story today is about how willing this group is to stand up for what they believe, facing what can sometimes be the unpleasant legal consequence of civil disobedience. And as this week’s Moral Monday got underway with thousands in attendance, another 73 people were arrested for protesting against legislation that would enforce some of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country.
That brings the total number of Moral Monday arrests up to 925. Almost 1000 good, southern people arrested for standing up for progress, while Tea Party support is declining… we have to take that as good news!
Some background: Moral Monday is an orchestrated “civil disobedience” action that’s brought progressive groups from around the state into Raleigh, the state capital, under the organization of the North Carolina NAACP and other activist groups. They’ve been gathering every Monday since April 29, demonstrating against issues such as cuts in education, social programs and unemployment; the rejection of the Medicaid expansion (which even redder than red Arizona pushed through); harsher restrictions on voting and labor rights and a restart of the death penalty. For progressives, these are all red-flag issues worth protesting; for conservatives, particularly southern conservatives, anyone pushing against their issues is red meat.
For example, in a piece titled, 13 Things Republicans Don’t Want Us Talking About – And A Photo They Don’t Want Us To See (VIDEO), writer Elisabeth Parker detailed the disingenuous efforts of the Republican leaders in the state to distract attention away from what the group is trying to do. In fact, one right-wing group with the very stern name of Civitas Institute, has created a specific page on their rather tacky website to “keep track” of what’s going on with the Moral Monday folk. Parker includes in her piece a video that NAACP leader, Reverend William Barber II, put together in response to Civitas’ attempt to quiet them down. It must be working; they have not quieted down!
Protestors throughout these last 12 Moral Mondays have followed a pattern of sorts. They meet, gather near the General Assembly chambers, then those who plan to engage in civil disobedience – wearing green arm bands to signal their willingness to be arrested – move into the second floor rotunda to peacefully wait for that eventuality. This week, however, the schedule shifted a bit. The legislators, by now well aware of the weekly protests, chose to not meet at their usual Monday, 7:00 p.m. time, but craftily, met three hours earlier. From WRAL.com:
In a change from past weeks, state House leaders moved their Monday night session to 4 p.m., three hours earlier than usual. That left the protesters massing shortly before 7 p.m. in the atrium outside the legislative chambers, singing and chanting in a largely empty building.
Though the schedule change had been announced last week, North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber accused the Republican majority of trying to duck the protesters.
“You can run, but you can hide,” Barber chided lawmakers in addressing the crowd. “When we come here and they are here, they want to drag us out. Then when they knew the national TV was on them, they tucked their tails and ran.”
Not so for the protesters. Despite the empty house, they made their noise, made their entrance, and made their point; 73 were arrested.
The pushback from the group has been a particularly powerful counterpoint to the recent political shift in that state. Republicans took over the North Carolina General Assembly in 2010 for the first time in over a century, and with the additional GOP weight of Gov. Pat McCrory in office since January, North Carolina progressives have their work cut out for them. But while many applaud the very vocal, public face of those who aren’t marching in lock-step with the GOP agenda, others see the growing number of arrests as an ominous sign of political oppression, an overuse of police force. From the Asheville Citizen-Times regarding the persistent arrests:
That has raised concerns about whether Republican leaders who took control of North Carolina’s General Assembly in 2010 are directing more aggressive enforcement against residents who disagree with their conservative agenda.
House Democratic Leader Larry Hall said last week that many were handcuffed for “petty citations” and shouldn’t have been sent to jail.
“I believe we have a great police force here,” said Rep. Hall, a lawyer from Durham. “Now, who do they work for? They work for whoever is in the majority in the House and the Senate, who are responsible for the messages sent to them from the top.”
Of course, the police disagree, citing the sheer numbers involved and the “rules” of the building that limit noise. It’s been noted, however, that back in July of 2001, way before the GOP took over the Assembly, conservative activists held a mass gathering of about 700 for a “Tar Heel Tea Party” to protest a proposed tax increase and not a damn one of them was arrested. And I bet they were noisy.
But despite what appears to be at least a suggestible case of partisan policing, North Carolina progressives are unbowed. Living in a red state is clearly a challenge, but as the Moral Monday rallies continue, their numbers are growing and their popularity is soaring, boding well for the burgeoning influence of liberal voices in that state. In fact, a recent Public Policy poll indicates that Moral Monday demonstrators are more popular than the governor and the GOP-controlled legislature. What is even more encouraging is that a survey taken last month shows that the bulk of the attendees are, in fact, North Carolina residents, not “outsiders,” as Gov. McCrory accused in a transparent attempt to deflect from the rage of his own constituents.
And those residents seem to be gaining steam, gaining confidence and gaining courage as their influence and ability to draw attention to their state’s restrictive agenda grows. As Mark Kleinschmidt, mayor of Chapel Hill, NC told the crowd at this Monday’s gathering:
“When you look around, this is a piece of everybody. This is North Carolina standing up.”
Here’s the video: