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Protesting ‘crazies’ deserve to be heard

By Fannie Flono
Jack Betts
Fannie Flono writes on news, politics and life in The Carolinas. Her column appears on the Editorial pages of The Charlotte Observer.

As I stood among the throng of more than 1,000 on the mall behind the N.C. legislative building in Raleigh – sweating in the sweltering Monday afternoon sun – a young woman explained to me why she wasn’t going to be among those arrested for civil disobedience.

“Unless you’re going into the social services, being arrested might be hard to explain. I admire them (those being arrested),” she said. “They know what they’re getting into. They’ve got bail money. I’d like to do what they’re doing. But, no, I won’t be – not today.”

Her comments underscored the seriousness of this business of “Moral Mondays” – the series of nonviolent demonstrations held since April 29 to push back against a Republican agenda that will cut services to the poor and raise taxes on the middle class while giving tax breaks and cutting taxes for the well-off.

Though Monday’s protest felt like part pep rally, part revival and part family reunion, those who took the demonstration inside the legislative building were arrested, handcuffed with zip ties and taken to jail when they failed to disperse as ordered by police. An arrest, even for civil disobedience, c ould take some explaining to a prospective employer. Already a few participants are reporting repercussions – questions and raised eyebrows from their bosses and a your-services-are-not-longer desired for volunteer work.

So it’s not an easy decision to line up for such arrests.

Still, 151 did. Monday’s arrests nearly equaled the combined total – 153 – from the four other Moral Monday protests.

Unfortunately, the GOP-controlled legislature isn’t even pretending to listen to these constituents. Instead, many are taking pride in ignoring or snickering at them. Greensboro Rep. John Blust even made a joke of the events. “I think of it like Carolina playing at Duke,” he told a news reporter, using an iconic N.C. college basketball rivalry. “I’m not going to let the Cameron Crazies throw me off my game.”

Only clueless politicians would think it’s appropriate to call their bosses crazies.

Yes, Rep. Blust, you work for those protesters who you’ve dubbed “crazies.” They pay your salary. Listening to them, not denigrating them, is part of your job.

Of course, Blust isn’t the only lawmaker recently to get confused by the employer-employee relationship the legislature has with the taxpaying public. In April, N.C. Sen. Tommy Tucker reportedly told a constituent expressing concerns about a bill being debated in committee: “I am the senator, you are the citizen. You need to be quiet.”

It is that kind of dismissive attitude from lawmakers that has swelled the numbers participating in the Moral Mondays protests.

For months, N.C. residents from all walks of life – young, old, black, white, poor, well-off, middle-class, you name it – have raised concerns about regressive policies the legislature seems hell-bent on pushing through this session. From sending letters and emails to speaking out at legislative hearings and committee meetings – or attempting to – to buttonholing lawmakers in hallways to even an occasional private conversation, individuals and groups have voiced their concerns to many N.C. legislators to little avail.

Noted Chris Kromm, executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies and publisher of Facing South, the institute’s online magazine: “We’re running out of options to get our voices heard... If the legislature gets its way, June will bring North Carolina unnecessary voter ID restrictions, fewer early voting days, and the end of our popular judicial public financing program. The impact of these decisions on our democracy cannot be overstated.”

The Moral Monday nonviolent protests conceived by the N.C. NAACP and its leader, the Rev. William Barber, have put the national spotlight on those policies and others that have unnecessarily targeted the poor, minorities and the vulnerable. They have especially served to highlight the cuts to education, social programs and unemployment benefits. They also call attention to ideological moves such as the costly rejection of federal Medicaid expansion funds, policies that will limit women’s access to health care, and changes that will fund private schools with public dollars. Those moves will hurt, not help, a swath of North Carolinians – and not just the politically powerless poor.

Given the ideological overreach of several legislative proposals, it’s not surprising that these protests are now drawing a diverse crowd of participants – even grandmothers on walkers and in wheelchairs.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s response Tuesday to the protests – calling them unlawful, decrying the costs to police them and declining to meet with the protesters – is exactly the wrong response.

The protesters have every right to protest, and to be arrested, and lawmakers and McCrory could have helped ameliorate this situation. They could have advocated for the peaceful protests to proceed without arrests or set up a procedure where those arrested did not have to appear in court and clog up the court system as Wake County prosecutor Colin Willoughby laments. They also could have reduced – and still can – the need for such protests by listening to and, more importantly, taking seriously the concerns these protesters are raising.

And here’s a reminder to the good governor – he, too, works for those taxpaying demonstrators. Listening and responding to all constituents – not just those of a certain political party or who fund his campaign coffers – is part of the job.

McCrory and N.C. legislators should remember that and start taking that part of their jobs seriously. If they won’t, their bosses – the “crazies” who are voting citizens – should give them a pink slip when the next election comes around.

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