Saunders: Is 'Moral Monday' a movement or just a moment?

barry.saunders@newsobserver.comJuly 28, 2013 

The game of golf has been described as “a good walk, spoiled.”

Historians years from now may say the same thing about the Moral Monday protests that have captured international attention and caused consternation to some in the state legislature.

The last protest on Jones Street is scheduled for Monday, which means it is time to take account and see what, if anything, they’ve accomplished.

If the thousands of people who’ve gathered for the protests outside the legislature in recent months don’t have a plan to build on the Moral Monday momentum, the epitaph for the protests will be that they were a festive reunion featuring feel-good speeches and sing-a-longs, a great movement that became merely a moment, a good walk, spoiled.

It was impossible to mix weekly in the throngs of the righteously indignant at Halifax Mall and not get caught up in the feeling that you were somehow speaking truth to power. Power may not have been listening, but already the marchers have put the lie to the claim of the governor and others that they were puppets led by a band of outsiders. The overwhelming majority of those arrested and interviewed were Tar Heels.

In the words of the great singer Peggy Lee, though, is that all there is?

The Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, insisted that the protests are more than just a summer fling. In an email response to questions submitted to him last week, Barber said the plan is to take the protests on the road. There’s a “Mountain Moral Monday” scheduled for Aug. 5 in Asheville, he said .

“We don’t stop when the legislature goes home,” he said.

He said the protests’ legal team “is developing a legal strategy to challenge the ... avalanche of extreme public policies” that cut Medicaid and unemployment insurance, erected what they see as barriers to voting and “eliminat(ed) pre-school for 300,000 poor children.”

Perhaps most significantly of all, Barber said each person arrested during the protests will register at least 50 new voters.

Now, singing “Kumbaya,” “Blowin’ in the Wind” or “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” will not cause targeted legislators to quake in their boots. They’ve been hearing that for 50 years, after all. Hearing that the more than 900 people arrested are going to register 50 voters each, however, could conceivably make some of the less doctrinaire legislators moderate some views and votes.

Just imagine if those who didn’t get arrested also make it their mission to register voters and ensure that everyone has a valid voter ID and a ride to the polls.

Speaking of getting arrested, it should be noted that proper protocol prohibits smiling while being cuffed. It is verboten, gauche, inappropriate. That’s true even when being arrested for what one considers a noble cause and even when you know you’re going to be released in time to see the two-hour season finales of “How I Met Your Mother” and “Scandal.”

The selfless act loses its insurrectionary power and takes on a “Ooh, I can’t wait to put this on my Facebook page” vibe.

Barber didn’t answer directly when asked, “How will you know the Moral Monday protests succeeded?”

It’s a good bet, though, that if his coalition is out singing and protesting what they consider an insensitive, extremist legislature two, four, six years hence, they didn’t.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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