Protests grow at state legislature

By Scott Mooneyham | Jun 04, 2013

RALEIGH — For the past several weeks, the exception being Memorial Day, crowds of protesters have descended upon the North Carolina Legislative Building each Monday to lodge their opposition to the policies pursued by the legislature's Republican majority.


The protests have largely been organized by the Rev. William Barber, who heads the state chapter of the NAACP. Barber has dubbed the events "Moral Mondays."


They begin with the crowd gathering outside. Some protesters later head inside, with the larger numbers singing as they move to the building's third floor, which leads to the public seating in the two chamber galleries.


From their third-floor perch, the protesters can look down to see the entrances to the two chambers. There, some of their brethren line up to block the doors to the House and Senate chambers, awaiting to be arrested for their civil disobedience.


As one might expect, the reactions to the protests have been dictated by the observers' political perspective.


Some GOP legislators and their supporters have dismissed the events as the rumblings of fringe leftists. They discounted the numbers, making comparisons to past protests that enjoyed larger crowds. One group suggested that Barber was encouraging rioting and lawlessness.


Democratic-leaning groups say the protests indicate growing discontent from around the state and from a wide swath of the populace regarding Republican-directed policy.


None of the characterizations provides the most accurate picture.


The critics on the right are most certainly correct that the overwhelming majority of the protesters are those already on the political left and already disapproving of conservative policy prescriptions.


That said, the gatherings are not easily dismissed as the grumbling of a handful of former hippies, students and gadflies (as Occupy Wall Street protesters were once described).


The crowds look a lot like North Carolina -- black, white, young, old, professional, working-class. They are also growing, with dozens becoming hundreds and hundreds.


Even if they were not, it is worth considering that state legislative politics is not high on the radar of average middle-class folks. Seeking arrest for one's beliefs also is not something that most people readily embrace.


Also, past protests at the General Assembly that have drawn larger crowds typically involve single-issue politics that are easy to organize around.


What these "Moral Mondays" suggest is that the political left in North Carolina is highly energized and highly agitated by the state of legislative politics here.


They did not expect the dramatic state policy right turn.


Whether that energy translates into any shift at the ballot box (especially when the Democratic leadership is so disorganized) remains to be seen.


It is certainly not a good thing for legislative Republicans that the political left in this state is becoming energized around legislative politics. Then again, if the discontent only extends to the left, the GOP may be fine.


What the GOP might need to worry about is that these kinds of protests don't attract the political middle. That doesn't mean they approve of the sharp right turn.