The protests at the General Assembly seem to be picking up steam. Those arrested are not just the usual suspects of serial protesters and young idealists. They include middle-aged professional people who are dismayed and disturbed by the direction that the General Assembly is taking the state.
Republicans are dismissing the protesters as disgruntled Democrats who are having a difficult time accepting that the GOP now controls state government. They might want to take a second look. In the summer of 2009, a lot of people (yours truly included) dismissed the Tea Party protests at Congressional offices as a small, vocal group who would soon go away. Same with the Occupy movement that started in New York in September 2011.
Both movements had major impacts. The Tea Party became a force within the Republican Party and, while its influence is now waning, set the stage for the ascendancy of Rand Paul and the GOP’s dramatic shift to the right in Congress. Occupy never entered into the political mainstream but it changed the national conversation. When the protests began, the country was talking about reining in the debt. By the time it began to fizzle, the country was talking about income inequality and the financial sector’s responsibility for the recession. They set the stage for Elizabeth Warren’s U. S. Senate run.
The key for the North Carolina protesters is to maintain the momentum and keep the middle-class, middle-aged protesters showing up on the front page of newspapers. They also need to work on their message. The name “Moral Monday” is self-righteous and condescending. If it comes down to a battle of who is more moral, left-leaning bible thumpers or right-leaning bible thumpers, the non-thumping general public will lose interest.
Politics is about self-interest. They need to make the protests about the day-to-day lives of average North Carolinians and begin to put personal faces on the victims of Republican policies. Let’s hear from a parent whose child will be denied daycare or a sick person who can’t get health care. Then let’s see them go to jail. Most people in North Carolina understand the old saying, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” The protest organizers need to make sure their message hits close to home.