Following last week’s attention-getting demonstration at McDonald’s Corp.’s shareholder meeting in Oak Brook, Ill., Rev. William Barber returned Tuesday to his weekly routine of leading stomps and rants at the North Carolina General Assembly.
The supersized president of the NC chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People relaunched his so-called “Moral Mondays” on May 19, which coincided with the return of legislators to the state capital for a few weeks. Sizes of the crowds he is able to bring to Raleigh vary, but with the aid of the local spectacle-loving media, Barber can always count on overestimates of head counts and exaggerations of his effectiveness.
He started these harangues last year when Republicans assumed full control of the governorship, state House and state Senate for the first time since Reconstruction. The protests started with minimal participation, but thanks to (unjustified) journalistic attention, they grew because cameras draw the demonstrative. As the new political powers enacted policies that reduced excessive unemployment benefits, lowered taxes, refused to expand Medicaid, instituted teacher merit pay, and other business-friendly initiatives intended to lower the state’s high jobless rate, the cacophony of the “gimme, gimme, gimme” big-government brigade become more shrill.
Now the aggrieved activists, who used to enjoy favor all the time the Democrats were in power, now show up at the Legislative Building every Monday evening. They’ve sang, clapped, banged pots and pans, stomped their feet, and basically conducted themselves in ways that spur responsible parents to put their little devils in the corner for time-out. Similarly, lawmakers have tried to institute rules for decorum in the General Assembly so that normal human beings can converse and walk about, but in the logic of liberals and the mainstream media, that is an infringement on “free speech.”
Barber is typically the master of every Monday “ceremony,” and when the protests began again last week, the crowd size predictably reached (maybe) 1,500. This week it was not so many – only about 170 showed up for the “mass” agitation (on Tuesday, because of Memorial Day). More significant was who showed up, as the protesters’ stated goal was to gain an audience with House Speaker Thom Tillis, who also is the Republican nominee to challenge U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan in November. A cluster of the 170 entered his office on Tuesday and spent the afternoon into the evening “occupying” his workspace and waiting for his return, which never occurred.
Barber and his posse (which includes the media), in desperate attempts to make their activities appear effective and relevant, have every week portrayed their ranks as mainstream. The narrative they have promoted is the average protester is a middle-of-the-road North Carolina citizen who can no longer tolerate the “extreme” changes the Republicans have implemented, and decides to head to Raleigh so their “voice can be heard” at Moral Monday. However, the people who keep showing up are professional activists and agitators from organized labor, abortion rights groups, protectionist public education unions, liberal think tanks, academia, and the aging hippie enclaves of Chapel Hill and Asheville.
Barber and his lieutenants resist the characterization, however. On Tuesday the executive director of the NC Democratic Party expressed her gratitude that “he has picked up the mantle” of liberal agenda advocacy in the state in the place of a weakened party apparatus. But Barber apparently bristled at the partisan connection made in the Associated Press article.
“Our movement is bigger than any party,” he said. “We are concerned about the soul of this state.”
Progressive NC commentator Rob Schofield added, “The Moral Mondays/Forward Together movement is no tool of the Democratic Party.” “Mainstream” – right.
Unfortunately it’s the fringe that keeps showing up for Moral Mondays. In the case of the occupiers of Speaker Tillis’s office, when law enforcement finally decided in the early hours of Wednesday morning that their shananigans were over, 14 miscreants and ministers were taken into custody. Among them was a woman who identified herself as “Minister” Rubye Harris, who has been convicted of larceny and fraud, and whose most recent crime was an assault in November 2012. Another was Tyrek Pierce, who has served time for larceny, robbery and false imprisonment. Others among the lineup of characters extracted from the Speaker’s office have backgrounds in “ministry” and “criminality” as well.
But don’t let the lunacy going on in North Carolina fool you about the capabilities and expanded influence of William Barber. He has taken the 1½-year-old Moral Monday brand and turned himself into an Al Sharpton-/Jesse Jackson-like activist celebrity. He is a MSNBC darling and when he needs to jack up the protest numbers a bit, he can call in troops from the ranks of SEIU, Planned Parenthood, NAACP and other out-of-state professional rage-raisers for help. And now he’s been invited by progressives in other states to advise them how they can start a “movement” themselves – which of course any mildly competent liberal can do, because the media is always ready to help.
And there Barber was last week at the McDonald’s protest in support of a higher minimum wage for their workers. He led the march of hundreds with Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry, and apparently his status for minorities is greater than that of Illinois’s own Jesse Jackson. What Barber has practiced with a veneer of “morality” in the Tar Heel state is likely to be seen more frequently throughout the rest of the country.
Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, an aggregator of North Carolina news.