Moral Mondays and misestimated mandates

If you haven’t heard about them already, “Moral Mondays” is the name given to a new protest movement in North Carolina. Moral Mondays protests address a myriad of issues such issues as reproductive rights, austerity measures, the Trayvon Martin verdict, cuts to unemployment insurance, voter ID proposals, and the rejection of Medicaid expansion and Obamacare. They are taking place in North Carolina, near the North Carolina Legislative Building in Raleigh. Moral Mondays draw a surprising variety of people in large numbers, week after week.

Initially organized by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and its president, Dr. Rev. William Barber, Moral Mondays are the result of careful organization and coalition style politics. According to Barber himself, “Moral Mondays are the result of seven years of progressive organizing for a new Southern ‘fusion politics’- a new multi-ethnic, multi-religious coalition with an anti-racist, anti-poverty agenda.”

Fusion politics seem akin to traditional popular and united front strategies. Moral Mondays are now in their third month, and thousands of people have participated, with nearly a thousand having been arrested. The protests are highly organized, with protesters sorted before the protests into groups according to who is and is not willing to be arrested. Participants are also given hours of training about what to expect and how to act in various situations. Almost all the protestors in the Moral Mondays movement are being carefully courteous and compliant, and are being scrupulously polite to the police.

Pat McCrory, the governor of North Carolina, has insinuated that the protestors at Moral Mondays are people from out of state. Then the conservative think tank and political machine cog Civitas Institute “dropped docs” (published information) on the arrestees in a way reminiscent of intimidation tactics used during the Civil Rights era – apparently almost all of them are residents of North Carolina, contrary to McCrory’s assertions. About 80 percent are white, and the average age is mid-50s. Approximately 20 percent are unemployed, and the group includes teachers, professors, doctors, students, etc. The numbers are quite close to the state’s average demographics, signifying the broad popular appeal of the movement. McCrory has now moved on to complaining about the moral character of the protesters instead.

Recently, Moral Mondays have begun to capture national media attention. There are a few preconditions for Moral Mondays’ success so far. For one thing, the political climate in North Carolina is very complicated at the moment. North Carolina is considered part of the South, but it’s not the Deep South, and it’s considered a swing state. High-tech economic growth in the last decade or so has brought some highly educated and highly paid professionals to North Carolina recently. Gerrymandering pushed through after Obama’s first election and millions of dollars of money from a very wealthy businessman after the Citizens United decision allowed the Republicans in North Carolina to gain control of both houses of the state legislature for the first time in 100 years. This legislature, aided by Republican governor Pat McCrory, has passed some of the worst legislation possible.

According to Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP, “In the space of a few months, lawmakers rejected $700 million in federal unemployment benefits and passed up federal funds to expand Medicaid for half a million people. At the same time, they voted to raise taxes on 900,000 poor and working class people; slash funding for pre-school and kindergarten; and spend time pursuing wildly unpopular proposals, like a bill that would let legislators receive gifts from lobbyists. Then, following a pattern we have seen across the country, they tried to cement their agenda by suppressing the vote. Rather than convince the public to vote for them on merit, legislators introduced a voter ID bill that would disenfranchise nearly 500,000 voters, and planned to roll back early voting, same-day registration and Sunday voting.”

They have also attacked abortion rights, which the governor had previously promised not to do. The long and short of all this appears to be that because the Republican government has flagrantly outraged so many people, Moral Mondays have a broad popular appeal they didn’t even have to craft — the insanely reactionary government of North Carolina did it for them, making possible broad coalitions than might otherwise not be functional.

Reactionary Republicans have seen the writing on the wall – the country as a whole is shifting to the left even as they pull further to the right. North Carolina’s current political environment is a microcosm of a changing country. The genie is out of the bottle, and no matter how hard the Republicans try, they cannot stuff it back in. The more extremist they become, the more voters they alienate.

So far, these protests have been confined to a single state, but some are calling for Moral Mondays to be expanded to other areas of the country. There are certainly other areas of the country where state governments controlled by Republicans and their allies are acting far in excess of their mandates, readying the political climate for unusually large coalitions like the one being created in North Carolina. But whether or not the movement spreads, there can be no doubt that the Moral Mondays movement has captured the notice and interest of North Carolinians — the movement is raising class consciousness and awareness of both the gross excesses of the legislature and also the strong resistance to them.

If Moral Mondays keep drawing crowds, this could be a powerful tool in the 2014 election year.

Photo: Moral Monday demonstration in North Carolina. AP