Moral Monday protesters carry on despite attempts to curb their activities

May 26, 2014 

It was just a matter of time until Republican legislators tried to muzzle the Moral Monday protesters who have set a national example with their weekly visits to the North Carolina Legislative Building.

Indeed, the GOP leadership loaded a little-used group called the Legislative Services Commission to establish rules that would curb the protests inside the building that in the last legislative session resulted in over 900 arrests of peaceful citizens.

So now, basically, protesters are allowed inside the building, but can’t speak (read that: sing or demonstrate) in a way that would disrupt an ordinary conversation. Perhaps Republicans thought they were being clever. They weren’t. Last Monday, protesters, several thousand of them, walked two by two inside the building with tape over their mouths. It was a symbol of what Republicans tried to do.

It could have been a symbol as well of what GOP leaders have attempted to do to all who disagree with them. They attacked teachers, verbally and financially. They curbed unemployment insurance in a cruel maneuver that denied many extended benefits and cut benefits for those eligible. They declined extending Medicaid coverage for lower-income families who really needed it to protect themselves and their children.

And of course, they pass voter suppression laws, including Voter ID, in an attempt to hinder people inclined to vote Democratic from exercising their constitutional rights.

But, oh, what a reaction they got. Led by the Rev. William Barber, head of the state NAACP, Moral Mondays turned into a growing crusade, drawing thousands of protesters outside the Legislative Building weekly. The movement caught on nationwide in states where tea party Republicans had taken control and made the mainstream GOP leaders dance to their tune.

Every time Republicans tried to respond, they made things worse. One lawmaker dubbed the protests “Moron Monday,” making himself and his party look ridiculous and petty. And attempts to stir up protests to answer the Moral Monday demonstrations have fallen far short of the hopes of organizers.

The maneuver by the services commission, dominated in appointments by Republicans, backfired as the taped protesters got even more attention, and Barber had his say, anyway, outside the building.

Some Republicans have said more rules may be coming. That, of course, will only make the leadership look worse. And it looks pretty bad as it stands.

Last week, Senate leader Phil Berger, who’s led the charge against the poor and the middle class with the laws on Medicaid, unemployment, voter suppression and tax breaks mostly helping the wealthy, wasn’t in town for the protest. And House Speaker Thom Tillis, seeking a U.S. Senate seat, was absent to attend a big fundraiser in Washington, doubtless taking checks from those who agree with his dismantling of regulation and his assistance to the wealthy and to business through tax cuts.

Tuesday, the marchers will return, following Memorial Day. And Republicans may be sure they’ll be back, Monday after Monday. More enlightened leaders might talk to the protesters (who include blue collar workers, teachers, lawyers and doctors) to at least hear their viewpoints.

Alas, the Republicans now in charge on Jones Street prefer ignorance of the opposition, the better to do their damage to average North Carolinians without facts and conscience getting in the way. They’ll stumble on, wreaking legislative havoc as they seek to destroy what’s left of environmental regulation and to cut taxes even more for the wealthy, who benefit most from their actions.

Meanwhile, a movement grows, literally across the country, thanks to the hearty souls who have dared to go to the considerable trouble of arriving at the Legislative Building knowing they’ll face only disrespect from those who are supposed to serve them.

Let us hope that the entire issue of their protests eventually winds up in a courtroom, maybe several courtrooms, because even some legislators (Democrats, granted) believe there are serious constitutional questions here. Can lawmakers really curb the free speech of people who are gathered in a building they own? If the answer is no, then those lawmakers who have tried to quiet the protests ought to be ashamed of themselves. If the answer is yes, then a chill should run from Murphy to Manteo.

These protesters have done a public service, pure and simple. They have spoken eloquently and loudly, even when they do not speak at all.

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