The Moral Monday and Witness Wednesday protesters don’t seem to understand the costs paid by true civil disobedience. That makes this month’s rallies at the Legislative Building so lame. True civil disobedience means a willingness to confront real evil and real danger.
To consider just one example of real civil disobedience, the Rev. Martin Luther King wrote his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” while serving 11 days alone in a cell, without an overhead light and sleeping on a metal cot with no mattress. He was at times in anguish over the difficulties and dangers he faced from all sides. And of course he was arrested and jailed other times by the authorities, mostly those of the solidly Democratic South.
Today those arrested in Raleigh often look jubilant as they are led off. Some might well be booked and released in plenty of time for later social engagements. Some brag about it on buttons or Facebook. As one said in an email, “I am proud to be a Moral Monday protester!”
And why not? If you want to stand up for something, great. But don’t think it compares with what Dr. King and others did.
Think of another contrast. The civil rights protests of the 1950s and 1960s were directed at flagrant discrimination.
When have today’s Monday and Wednesday protesters been similarly discriminated against? In November, according to our Carolina Transparency page, blacks made up 23 percent of those who voted, above their 22 percent share of the North Carolina population. And while hopefully not belaboring the obvious, at that election a black man was re-elected president of the United States.
Liberals also had plenty of chances to influence the General Assembly in November. They just failed. Instead of working harder to persuade their elected representatives to take a new tack, however, they are trying to undercut the functioning of the officials who actually won the most votes.
Do the protesters lack a voice? Our analysis shows that that many of the protesters hail from the professional classes, especially in education and the non-profit sectors. They have many ways to influence the debate.
Are they faced with great injustice? Today’s problems are less clear-cut than in the past. Consider one example. A couple of Mondays ago I heard at least one pastor inveigh against the General Assembly for supposedly slashing Medicare to next to nothing. At just about the time the charge was being made, however, those dastardly representatives in the House were proposing a budget that would:
set aside an extra $308 million to fill the current year’s hole in the Medicaid budget
include a $434 million increase to reflect rising Medicaid costs
add $49.7 million additional funds for Medicaid to accommodate additional enrollees resulting from Obamacare.
While tinkering with some aspects of the health care program, those evil lawmakers were planning to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more on Medicaid, even as it gobbles up billions in the state budget.
The same could be said of many other actions by the legislature. The problem isn’t cruel legislators – it’s cruel math. The state’s economy has stumbled so badly that it now has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the nation. Yet government spending over the years has grown exponentially. The money has run out and something has to be cut, and it will be, no matter what anyone wishes.
By all means, we need better ways of spending taxpayers’ money and improving the economy. But that requires innovation, hard thinking and persuasion. Protests are just distractions.
This much must be conceded: The protesters aren’t totally ignoring the democratic process. Their real goal may be to fire up their base for the 2014 elections. After all, going back a few years, arrests at the Wake County School Board stirred up plenty of controversy and may have helped unseat some board members. Maybe today’s protesters hope a new distraction will revive the liberal cause in NC.
So the Wednesday that really counts will be Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014. The protesters would have better chances of celebrating success then if they’d find and promote effective ideas and proposals, rather than making lame gestures that feebly imitate a heroic past.