The Monday protests have managed to get publicity — but they have missed chances to do more important things.
Isn’t that really what happened with Baby Boomers? They were handed the richest, most vibrant society ever, and now it’s bankrupt, fiscally, morally, artistically. The Monday crowds, with a lot of gray hair and balding pates in evidence, can only chant the old slogans. Yet many have done quite well for themselves.
We have pointed out the organizations behind the protests have taken in more than $100 million in recent years. Nice work if you can get it.
Observers at yesterday’s rally might have similar thoughts about its leader, the Rev. William Barber. Has he missed great opportunities? He still can rouse a crowd. But to what end?
He even has moments when he rises about the cliches of the left. Yesterday inside the State Legislative Building, the protesters had gathered on the second floor as part of the demonstration. On the third floor, looking down into the atrium, were other observers and sympathizers. Security officials announced that the protesters had five minutes to disperse. Many began booing.
Barber became visibly distraught, and waved his arms to get everyone’s attention. That proved ineffective in the chaotic scene. So he stepped up on the marble rim of the fountain that dominates the area. This took some doing: He is a large man, and uses a cane these days. He wobbled a bit on the rim, raising the fear he’d splash down in the water. Both his aides and the security personnel were visibly alarmed; at the least, fishing him out of the fountain would be an awkward business.
But he managed to maintain his balance and cry out to the crowd, “No need to boo the officers! They’re just doing their job. Right now you’ve got to give the officers a hand!” The crowd responded with applause. The moment passed, Barber left, and the arrests began.
A fine moment. But that only raised the question of why he doesn’t speak out so powerfully other times.
Take his rant earlier on the mall. He said of Republicans, “They are not pro-life!” He went on to say that the “real” pro-life issues are education, the environment, and so forth.
Yet why didn’t he also note that the real pro-life stand is … to be pro-life. It would be interesting if he had said that if the crowd wanted to support the truly helpless and needy, they ought to protect babies in the womb. Judging by the slogans on signs and T-shirts, he may have lost half the crowd. But yet might he have gained credibility and honor?
Or take how he assailed modern-day Republicans for supposedly trying to revive the Old South. But as with much of the protests, he seemed stuck in the past. For instance, he railed against a few statements attributed to political operative Lee Atwater, who died more than 20 years ago. The crowd ate it up, no matter how old the references. But what if Barber had added, “That is all in the past, however. It’s 2013! The sacrifices of Martin Luther King and other heroes were not in vain. We have made progress. We do have power. We can affect the legislature. But not by throwing tantrums, but by coming up with better ideas, and persuading legislators of a better course.”
He also spoke of love, but in a voice filled with anger and disdain. He said his concerns were about policies, but offered none of his own. He quoted the Bible, but missed some relevant passages, such as all that “Render unto Caesar” stuff.
It’s too bad. The times are crucial — but they aren’t as dramatic as the Sixties. A black man is in the White House, and our nation doesn’t have the money to pay for every liberal fantasy. We have to find realistic ways to solve our problems, while indeed helping all people. Good leaders are needed. But they have to be brave enough to stand up for what is right, even when it’s unpopular. For one moment Barber defied the crowd, and by appealing to the better angels of their natures raised the event to a higher level — if only for a moment. Too bad he doesn’t do that more often.