My back already ached on a cool and rainy May morning, when my friend David from New York called.
“I have the answer to your problems in North Carolina,” he blurted out rather than a greeting. “You need to vote the legislature and the governor out of office. An effective boycott may awaken the sleepy population of your state. Once they feel the effect, their motivation will be stronger.”
That is certainly easy to say, much like liberals saying that conservatives should see that Donald Trump is not one of them. When you live somewhere else, same as when you’re talking about somebody else’s troubles, answers don’t seem that hard to identify.
I wanted David to understand the obstacles from the perspective of Tar Heels fighting HB2.
“The polls indicate more North Carolinians oppose HB2 than support it by around ten percent, but the governor’s race is deadlocked despite McCrory’s bumbling defense of the bill. That’s a problem because the Democrats’ best hope is to elect Cooper and enough Democrats in one house to sustain his vetoes. The power here belongs to the legislature with the state House and Senate districts so gerrymandered it may take years to sort out.”
Despite David’s good intentions, I had to challenge his notion that a boycott would change the minds of HB2 supporters. I argued that, if anything, boycotts and threats of boycotts stiffened their resolve. In fact, David telling us what we needed to do was stimulating an emotional reaction in me. I tried a good analogy. At least, I thought it was a good one.
“Sophomore year at UNC, inspired perhaps more by an attractive co-ed from Charleston than enthusiasm for political science research, two classmates and I set off for the Kanawha River valley of West Virginia.” We had devised to study a wave of school fire bombings. We met with the bomber himself, a Reverend Horne, who awaited trial.
“He had those fiery blue eyes like the paintings of John Brown and just as much conviction,” I said. “He knew, not thought, that it was his duty to destroy the schools rather than allow the children of his holler to be exposed to ideas from faraway places with strange-sounding names. See, you can’t change that kind of deeply held belief with a boycott.
“Besides,” I continued, “Boycotts hurt working people and local governments more than the legislature, while punishing both those who stand against the bill along with its supporters. Look, Charlotte voters elected a city council majority promising to enact protection for transgendered people. They should lose jobs and events?”
I did not expect David’s response. I got a good blast of apparent class prejudice from my friend.
“There is always an excuse,” he said. “People have the power to fix the gerrymandering if they seize it. Your ‘working people’ don’t vote very often, and vote for reps who advocate policies that are not in their interest when they do. That's what happens when the population is uneducated and undereducated.”
I struggled not to shout my reply.
“That’s what you think we are in North Carolina? No matter how foolishly some people vote, they are still our brothers and sisters. You have to treat them the way you want them to treat LGBQT folks. Thinking of HB2 supporters as the Other is no different than the way they identify LGBQT citizens as the Other. The Other is the foundation of fear and prejudice. We already have too much fear and misunderstanding.”
“You’re reading too much in it,” David snapped and hung up.
That hardly changed my belief that solutions don’t come from demonizing whole groups. Resolution and progress come from understanding, then compromise, and ultimately collaboration, from both-and, not the binary trap of either-or.
The answer is “we,” not “they.”
In the end, love trumps fear.
You can reach Art Menius at firstname.lastname@example.org.