Published on July 10th, 2013 | by Brett Gustafson0
North Carolina Moral Mondays: Playbook for States Suffering from Extremist Agendas
Political and social discontent continues to grow in North Carolina as the 10th Moral Monday grew to an estimated 3500 people on July 8th 2013. Moral Monday is a movement that is organized by civil rights leaders, faith organizations, education leaders, environmental groups and women’s rights advocacy groups who oppose North Carolina’s new extremist legislation.
Since last fall’s election, when the extremist conservatives gained a majority in the state legislatures, North Carolina seems to be on a fast track to passing bills that are leading the state towards having the worst record in the nation on voting rights, education, the environment, public services, women’s health, and health care; but the well-organized Moral Monday leaders and protesters are effectively creating a people’s voice that is challenging the extremist political conversation.
The people’s voice may be temporarily shut out of the conversations of NC state legislators, but these courageous people standing up for the rights of all North Carolinians, will not allow their voices to be silenced. They are well organised, crafting a clear and effective message, and massing an effective coalition of individuals who are using strategies of nonviolent resistance reminiscent of the civil rights era.
Like a playbook, the Monday protests are well scripted and choreographed to create the most powerful message without creating chaos that would hinder future protests and diminish the credibility of the message. The protest starts well before the rally as nonviolent protestors are trained and educated on how to be arrested for civil disobedience. Later, a rally with many inspiring speakers excites the protestors and prepares the crowd to support those who are choosing to be arrested later in the day.
As the time nears for the acts of civil disobedience, the crowd energized by the days speeches parts like the red sea forming a protective, encouraging, and grateful corridor leading those willing to be arrested into the North Carolina Legislative building. Cheers of appreciation are heard from the crowds as these citizens make the journey to be arrested. Throughout the arrest process, protest songs reminiscent of the civil rights era were sung by crowds. Later the event ends with a potluck held at one of the local churches. The event seems to be effectively inspiring people to go back to their own communities and take up these issues in their local municipalities.
For those in other states who are suffering from extremist legislation, below, Scott Keyes, senior reporter for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, wrote an excellent synopsis of the strategies being used in North Carolina.
Article reprinted from ThinkProgress:
Training protesters beforehand. Moral Monday organizers left no stone unturned in preparing protestors prior to the event. Three hours before it began, organizers met with about 250 protestors at a nearby church. Those who had previously been arrested were instructed to sit in the right pews — getting arrested for protesting twice carries a much larger penalty — while those who were willing to be arrested that day were told to sit on the left. After a series of speeches and songs, lawyers and organizers came in to instruct those who would engage in civil disobedience exactly what to expect, what to do, and what not to do.
The organizers walked them meticulously through each step — what the police would tell them, where to stand, not to resist, what they would be charged with, what the booking process would be like, and so forth — and gave each person willing to be arrested a green armband so as to identify and separate them from the rest of the crowd. By the end of the training, each protester knew exactly how to conduct themselves. With thousands of protesters on hand later that day, this training beforehand kept the event from spiraling out of control, particularly as the arrests began coming down.
Cooperate with police. One hallmark of the protests were how cooperative they were with law enforcement throughout the process. Organizers understood that police officers were not the enemy. (In fact, because the police don’t have collective bargaining rights in North Carolina, protesters were advocating on their behalf as well.) ThinkProgress spoke with officers who lauded how organizers had cooperated with them throughout every step of the process, keeping them informed of what time they would set up, where folks would organize, and so on.
On the rare occasion that a protester began hurling insults at an officer, organizers were quick to intervene and remind the individual who the actual opponents were. Cooperating with the police kept the protests civil, even as arrests happened, thus keeping the focus on the rally’s message instead of on clashes with officers. One policeman told ThinkProgress that, in his experience, protesters had been “very nice,” “orderly,” and “great to deal with.”
Putting your most sympathetic activists front and center. Protests and movements often garner the most attention when there’s an individual or two whose life embodies the struggle at hand. That’s not to say that outside observers don’t pay attention to the abstract cause of voter suppression, for instance, but it becomes far more tangible for onlookers when there is a person whose individual voting rights are being threatened. Moral Monday organizers understand this.
On the June 24th protest, they put 92-year-old Rosanell Eaton front and center, leading the group of 120 protesters as they walked into the legislative building and prepared to be arrested. Eaton had grown up in the Jim Crow South and had been forced 70 years ago to remember and recite the preamble to the Constitution on the spot just to register to vote. Now, with North Carolina considering voter ID legislation that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of minorities in the state, she felt the need to stand up and protest. “She thought things were smooth sailing,” her daughter, Armenta, told ThinkProgress. “She’s seen the good, bad, and the ugly. Now she’s seeing the ugly again.” Putting these sympathetic characters up front makes it far more likely a protest will garner media attention.
Supporting those getting arrested. Throughout the day, organizers and protesters were able to create a remarkable sense of community, especially in support of those who chose to be arrested. Half of those gathered at the church organizing meeting beforehand were supporters who wouldn’t be getting arrested that day, but came out to support those who would anyway. At the actual event, just before protesters marched inside the legislative building, thousands of supporters lined up in two columns to create a tunnel walk for those engaged in civil disobedience, chanting “thank you” and showering the marchers with hugs and handshakes. Afterward, hundreds gathered outside to cheer on those arrested as they were loaded onto the paddy wagon buses parked outside. Finally, many drove out to the county detention center to greet arrestees as they were released, cheering loudly as each new person exited the building. Though each action may not have been monumentous by itself, collectively they created a strong sense of community that not only supported those making a big sacrifice, but also encouraged others to do so on future Moral Mondays.
Meticulous organization. Every step of the process, from the initial meeting at the church to the press conference highlighting individuals who were impacted by North Carolina lawmakers’ decisions to the protest itself, was highly organized. Protests are notoriously unpredictable affairs, but an ounce of organization can head off major problems. For example, as protesters streamed into the state legislative building, organizers were on hand to count the number of people going in and cut it off after a certain amount, lest they overcrowd the small building and force police to shut the entire protest down. In addition, organizers kept those thousands of people who couldn’t fit in the legislative building engaged with other support activities, like demonstrating out by the buses to support those who had been arrested, or carpooling out to the detention center to greet them afterward. Finally, a potluck back at the church was organized afterward where protesters could debrief and swap stories about the day.Photos by Phil Fonville