In case you haven't been paying attention to the latest Moral Monday headlines, things have been getting just a tad testy lately. Are protesters headed for real trouble, as many in other states have faced over the past few years (I'm looking at you, Wisconsin), or has this whole thing about run its course?
If it's up to the Rev. William J. Barber II, lead organizer of Moral Mondays and the head of the state's NAACP, as impressive as some events have been, including one in February that was compared in size to marches from the 1960s, they're just getting started. As he sees it, just as the Republican majority passed measures in early May restricting the size and sound of what the protesters could do, this movement is in keeping with the grand tradition of other civil disobedience efforts in this country's history. And he's got the arrest record to show for his efforts, including an incident June 15 in which he went head-to-head with Lieutenant Marvin Brock of the General Assembly Police.
But Brock was simply enforcing the new rules of the Legislative Building that forbid demonstrators from "making a noise loud enough to impair others' ability to conduct a conversation in a normal tone of voice while in the general vicinity." Listed examples of disallowed behavior include clapping, shouting, playing instruments or using equipment to amplify sound. The NAACP challenged the new rules as being overly broad, and Superior Court Judge Carl Fox agreed, suspending them for the time being pending further legal arguments. Still, Barber and 19 others were restrained with plastic handcuffs and ordered to leave the rotunda area outside the General Assembly. Barber complied, saying, "They think this is me, but they're going to find out it's the people."
So the protests will continue, but a year into the debate and in anticipation of this November's elections, we wondered whether the demonstrators are making any difference. Are they changing any minds, altering any laws on the books or legislation being considered? Or is this just an exercise in futility, at best giving some a chance to vent their frustration with what they say is an attack on North Carolina's poorest and most vulnerable residents, extending across policies as diverse as education and health care to the environment, taxes and voting rights?
The Charlotte region's newest state senator says legislators are feeling pressure form protesters. Attorney Jeff Jackson, a Democrat who took the District 37 seat in early May when Dan Clodfelter resigned to become mayor, made it clear that "protests matter," telling me over the phone that everyone - meaning all of his colleagues, including the Republicans he's met - notices and pays close attention, "even when they act like they don't." He said these actions "set the tone; they're a constant reminder of what's going on outside these halls," but emphasized that they must remain non violent.
He needn't worry about violence. Barber is a fan of the pen, not the sword. In an open letter dated May 19, penned just after the start of the short session, he told followers that they were beginning the next phase of the protests "because we refuse to allow [House Speaker] Thom Tillis and his extremist 'super-majority' to pursue their morally bankrupt agenda in the dark."