Why a People’s Movement Is Rising in Carolina

Republicans in North Carolina bristle at comparisons of the Moral Monday demonstrations to Taksim Square. But there are similarities—for starters, just as the Turkish government did, the governor and Republicans first tried to blame “outside agitators”—but arrest records show over 98 percent of protesters are Carolina grown.

Then, like the authoritarians in Ankara, GOP leaders mocked and insulted protesters, most famously when state Senator Thom Goolsby coined the term “Moron Mondays.”

He said the protests were a circus featuring smelly, espresso-drinking white hippies—save for the black organizer, whom he described as: “The ‘Reverend’ Barber [who] was decked out like a prelate of the Church of Rome (no insult is meant to Catholics) …”

The biggest proof that the Moral Monday protests are making a difference in North Carolina is they have forced conservative consigliere Art Pope to move against them.

 

Barber is the Rev. Dr. William Barber as well as a long-time leader of the NAACP, but Republicans love to sneer that he’s just “North Carolina’s version of Al Sharpton.” (By the way, hundreds of Catholics were deeply offended by Goolsby’s crack. The event was sponsored by several Catholic churches, featured priests and was endorsed by the Raleigh Diocese.)

North Carolina is seeing the rise of this people’s movement partly because a democratically elected majority from 2010 has been abusing its power to force an unpopular agenda down people’s throats. To do this, in 2011, Republicans passed a redistricting plan to block real majority rule and then decided to ignore legislative rules to pass bills.

Raleigh Republicans have otherwise given people plenty to make them mad: the list is far too long but highlights include Governor Pat McCrory’s energy plan. His Secretary of the Environment is working hard to write a fracking bill favorable to McCrory’s old firm, Duke Energy. And McCrory’s top eco-cop also raised eyebrows when he expressed interest in discredited science from old Soviet researchers who falsely declared oil a renewable resource.

For African-American leaders, the legislature’s attack on voting rights was their catalyst. One example, a bill to cancel up to $2,500 in college tuition tax credits for middle income families if their college-bound kids dared to register to vote any place other than their parents’ home—even if they live off-campus with their own income. Since federal law makes it a felony to use any financial means to influence a citizen’s vote, you wonder if Republicans realize how silly they sound in claiming that they are preventing fraud.

Then there is education: cuts over the last three years made more proposed cuts a flash point, but temperatures ran hottest after activists sent a delegation of school children to meet McCrory bearing a petition signed by 16,000 parents urging him to block any further cuts.

Like any good politician, McCrory avoided a bad photo-op by claiming he was in an important meeting. But it turned out he was playing catch with a capitol cop. Thanks to a smart phone video, he was caught. Rather than a simple apology and moving on, McCrory’s spokesperson responded with a bizarre declaration that the governor blew off the kids by taking Michelle Obama’s advice to exercise more, fueling the controversy even more.

For now, the protesters aren’t having much impact. Sure, McCrory and the Republicans abandoned a plan to abolish the corporate income tax and cover the revenue losses through new sales taxes on food and medicine. But that was because the Raleigh state House is as unpopular as the U.S. Congress and McCrory’s numbers are dropping fast.

Thus the biggest proof that protests are making a difference is they have forced conservative consigliere Art Pope to move against them.

Pope, an heir to a vast fortune built on stores targeting low-income households, underwrites the state’s tea party and spent nearly 75 percent of the campaign money to elect a legislature to his liking. McCrory rewarded Pope’s bankroll by putting him in charge of the state budget.

Pope also finances the right-wing Civitas Foundation, which now promises to post every mug shot and arrest report of the more than 400 people arrested at the demonstrations, with promises they will provide a “complete dossier” exposing anyone who dares protest at the capitol and those reports will include vital information like traffic tickets and voter registrations.

If that sounds like intimidation, well, it is—it is also likely to backfire, as the initial reaction has been to encourage more citizens to join Moral Monday.

Moreover, with Republicans poised to pass a new plan to abolish corporate taxes and pay for it by cutting colleges and schools, odds are more people will be mad as hell.

Stay tuned.

 

Peter Lindstrom is a political consultant and researcher. He lives in Washington, D.C.