Gov. Pat McCrory and his fellow Republicans who control of the North Carolina General Assembly didn’t quite know what to make of Moral Mondays, the weekly demonstrations that brought thousands of people downtown in the last legislative session.
Oh, a few GOP members tried to make something of it, mostly negative. One even called the protests “moron Mondays,” a label that said more about the legislator than the law-abiding citizens who were exercising their rights, and the more than 900 of them who were willing to pay the price of civil disobedience by being arrested.
Republican lawmakers wanted to believe the protesters represented a token minority of citizens, liberals on the fringe, and that their leader, the Rev. William Barber, was just a rabble-rouser.
The truth is, Barber, head of the state NAACP, did a good job harnessing the energy of those who found the Republican lawmakers’ actions to deny poor families Medicaid, to curb unemployment benefits, to give the rich tax breaks and to curb voting rights absolutely against what they believed in and a reflection of putting heartless, harsh partisan rhetoric into actual law.
Demonstrators were peaceful, and followed instructions when the General Assembly police announced their intention to arrest people and then did arrest people. At one point, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby suggested demonstrators be given citations rather than be hauled to jail.
Lawmakers who allowed charges of trespass were walking a thin line. Legislators work in the people’s house, owned by the people, and despite some GOP leaders blocking off areas from time to time, the people of the state must be free to visit their building all the time.
In any case, the arrests hardly deterred protesters. They kept coming, and they kept bringing more friends with them, several thousand every week.
Some Republicans sneered as they walked through the hallways, and went ahead with their brash, to-the-rear march in North Carolina’s law books.
But they didn’t look good, and Republican lawmakers suffered damage to their images whether they wanted to admit it or not.
By session’s end, the GOP lawmakers had suffered their worst nightmare: The protesters had shown themselves to be respectible citizens of the community (doctors, teachers, ministers) and to be, in the vast majority of cases, North Carolinians. So much for the “outsiders” label some lawmakers tried to affix.
The protests even got Gov. McCrory in trouble. At one point in an interview, he gave the distinct impression he had gone out and mingled with the protesters, when in fact he had not. The governor, inexperienced in the ways of state government, took several weeks to get out from under that gaffe.
The bad news for Republicans is that other protesters in other states are learning from Moral Mondays and have attended meetings in North Carolina about how to organize them.
The further bad news: Moral Monday leaders say the protests will resume when the legislature reconvenes next year.
Maybe the governor will really meet some of them this time.