There are a lot of reasons that thousands of North Carolinians have remained motivated to devote big chunks of time from their busy lives to attending Moral Monday events at the state Legislative Building over the past year-plus: the sustained assault on public education, the disastrous failure to expand Medicaid to a half-million people in need, the attacks on voting rights, the harshest-in-the-nation cuts to unemployment insurance. The list goes on and on.
If there’s a single factor, however, that serves as perhaps the most important catalyst, it might just be the utter lack of respect that state leaders have accorded the protest movement and its leaders.
On the day the right swept to power in the General Assembly in January 2011, the days of genuine conversation and give and take in the North Carolina political world basically came to an end. Rather than at least listening seriously to those who voiced grave concerns about the radically different direction they were taking the state, conservative leaders made clear that protesters were, in effect, the enemy — a group to be ignored, belittled and, if possible, thoroughly routed.
Speaker Tillis, Senate President Pro Tem Berger, Budget Director Pope and Gov. McCrory can issue all the carefully measured statements they want about their supposed respect for free speech, opposing points of view and willingness to hear from protesters, but ultimately, their actions speak louder than their words.
Last year, as you may recall, the Pope-Civitas Institute launched a venomous and, at times, dishonest series of broadsides against the movement in which it published photos and other identifying information about protesters and then followed it up with a series of outrageous accusations that movement leaders were motivated by personal financial gain.
Now, this year, in a new line of scurrilous attacks, the Pope people (along with Senator Berger and other conservative advocacy organizations) are attempting to argue that the Moral Mondays movement is seeking to foist a massive and debilitating tax increase on the North Carolina citizenry.
In point of fact, neither Rev. Barber nor his supporters are calling for $10 billion in new taxes (or just under a 50 percent increase in the state General Fund budget) as the Pope-Civitas people would have you believe. As Alexandra Sirota of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center reported in a genuinely serious essay on the topic, the true cost would actually be closer to $1 billion. Moreover, and importantly, once various progressive budget changes were fully implemented, the net fiscal impact on the state would be a net gain of $106 million.
But the General Assembly created this year’s so-called budget crisis by passing hefty tax breaks for the wealthiest and the corporations last year. If our lawmakers found the courage to repeal the unfair tax policies, we would gain up to $1.2 billion in additional revenue.”
Of course, the Pope-Civitas people and their political allies know Barber’s real positions and those of the movement he leads. They understand that expanding Medicaid would bring billions of federal dollars into the state and that the cost of many of the items identified for repeal – most notably the harshest-in-the-nation cuts to unemployment insurance – would not fall upon average taxpayers. They know that were they to sit down and engage in serious discussions with their opponents, common ground could be found. Unfortunately, they’d rather make outrageous assertions to gin up their political base than engage in serious debate.
And so it is that so many thousands of informed North Carolinians are so downright outraged by what’s taking place in the state capital these days. Yes, folks are angry about the radical rightward lurch in state policies, but what really keeps many of them coming back is the way in which their modest demands are so grotesquely and routinely distorted (and utterly ignored) by the powers that be and the minions they employ.