It was the Era of Good Feelings all over on the Halifax Mall on Monday, when hundreds of people gathered for their weekly “Moral Monday” demonstration, gathered to get their fair share of abuse.
They actually came to sing, hear speeches and fellowship with like-minded citizens who are protesting some or all of the policies of the GOP-led state legislature. There was no abuse, unless you count the 151 protesters who had to spend time in jail before being bailed out.
The cops were nice when they slapped the zip ties on them, though.
Despite protesting what various signs and speakers decried as assaults on public education, fertility, voting rights, the poor and care for the mentally ill, the mood was festive, perhaps even giddy. Take away those signs and speeches – and add some barbecue wafting through the air – and you’d have thought you were at a cookout.
“Oooh, this is so exciting,” one woman who appeared to be in her 20s said as she wandered the halls of the legislature, trying to find the area where people were being arrested.
If you somehow felt diminished because you missed the marches and protests of the 1950s and 1960s, here was your chance to relive those days without the high-powered water hoses and dogs.
Four stern-faced horsemen – Raleigh Police Department officers – sat sentry outside the Legislative Building, and two Division of Prison buses sat waiting to transport transgressors to jail.
GOP leaders say the marches have no influence on how they govern – Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, said they’ve had “zero impact,” and Gov. Pat McCrory this week called the civil disobedience “unlawful.”
Legality aside, after the speeches, the singing, the fellowship and the giddiness, the question for march leaders and participants must be “What now?”
Angry and motivated
The Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP and one of the march’s organizers, told me the day after the march that protesters aren’t discouraged at being ignored by lawmakers and called lawbreakers. “People are not discouraged. They are angry and motivated,” he said.
“We did not come just cursing the darkness. ... Remember, we offered to work with them and presented them a nonpartisan progressive agenda on economic sustainability and jobs, educational equality, health care for all.”
Among other things, Barber blasted lawmakers for cutting 500,000 people from the Medicaid rolls, causing twice that many working poor families to lose their earned income tax credit “so that 23 wealthy people get a tax cut,” and giving $100 million in public money to private schools while cutting corporate tax rates but adding taxes to just about everything else we buy.
“It’s sad and troubling that they would use the political power given to them on loan to pursue such an extreme, immoral agenda,” Barber said.
The crowd on the mall was composed of myriad nationalities, some of whom seemed moved to tears by the moment. I watched as one of the march organizers approached Barber. “This is a family that came all the way from California” to participate in the event, he told Barber by way of introduction.
How can it not go on?
Will the marching continue? I asked Barber the next day. “Yes, it will continue,” he said. “How can it not?”
If it does, here is how the marchers can ensure that they are not adjudged to be merely cursing the darkness, but seen as lighting a candle.
One of the main issues liberals and Democrats have with the GOP-led legislature is the Voter ID Bill, which they fear will dissuade many minorities from voting. Be for real: That’s what it was designed to do.
Yet, if every person who gathered to sing “Kumbaya” – they didn’t actually sing that one, but you get the idea – committed to registering 10 people to vote and seeing that each had a valid ID, they could ensure that no legislators will ignore them again.
Indeed, when hundreds of thousands more new registered voters descend upon the polls in 2014, they could induce dissension and panic within Republican ranks. “Say, whose bright idea was it to require voter ID anyway?”
Despite what McCrory said, only a fool would demean or deny what has been accomplished in this country by precisely this type of peaceful civil disobedience.
What has been happening on successive Mondays at the legislature should henceforth be called “civil obedience” said Statesville bail bondsman Xavier Zsarmani when I spoke with him Monday before rain succeeded in doing what McCrory would like to do – disperse the crowd.
“We have an obligation to do this,” Zsarmani said. “They’re turning back the clock.”
Are you coming back next week, I asked.
“And I’m bringing my children, too,” he answered. “They’ll be out of school.”
Hmmm. Do they make zip ties that fit 5-year-old wrists?
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