Despite media portrayal, ‘Moral Mondays’ not a party for every protester

Jul. 06, 2013 @ 04:27 AM

The Raleigh News & Observer is certainly going all out to promote the ‘Moral Mondays’ protests at the General Assembly – and incidentally, is reinforcing every stereotype of sheltered liberals who flirt with anarchy knowing there won’t be any personal consequences for doing so.

Front page pictures of handcuffed and affluent professionals grinning like fools for the cameras?

Check.

Interviews with college professors who explain they decided to get arrested because, “We hope that as respected historians, who some would call eminent, we can reach out to others and stir them to speak out”? Check.

Articles describing the party-like atmosphere at the protests, including a bounty of food served up for protesters who had been “too excited about being arrested” to eat beforehand?

Another cringe-inducing check.

Then there’s the recent opinion column in the Asheville Citizen-Times that sputtered angrily about the injustice of ignoring Moral Mondays protesters when they’re nothing like the Occupy movement.

THOSE people, the writer huffs, complained about a myriad of issues without articulating any specific demands.

But this is an accusation that could also be leveled at the Moral Mondays protesters.

What’s more, the Occupy movement was never about verbalizing political complaints. It was about showing people how to brashly insert themselves into areas of society where they wanted to see real change — like setting up a complete tent village around the corner from Wall Street.

Back to the Moral Mondays protesters, who, thanks to the News & Observer and other media outlets, appear more presentable than the Occupiers.

I question this decision. It’s obviously based on the assumption that North Carolinians won’t be moved by these protests unless they are led by the “eminent.” And I question that, too. People generally do care, very much, about the unemployed and the sick.

Ironically, a stunt pulled to humiliate the Moral Mondays protesters may be what finally puts a relatable face to the movement.

The Civitas Institute, an organization founded and funded by Art Pope — the prominent businessman, former state legislator, and North Carolina’s current State Budget Director — got hold of the arrested protesters’ mug shots and proceeded to slap them up on its website for public viewing.

Along with other information, each mug shot is accompanied by the arrestee’s name, employer, political party identification, and if they exist, affiliations with various causes and political groups.

(May I see your papers, Comrade?)

Sure enough, some of these mug shots feature professors, doctors, and other comfortably well-todo activists.

But there’s also a 22 year-old waitress. A young man who works for a grocery store. And a woman, 62, who works at a discount store.

Then there’s the woman whom I find out lost her uninsured adult son to cancer. She’s deeply upset with the state’s decision to nix the expansion of Medicaid.

Some of the protesters featured in the database are unemployed, a status which the Civitas Institute appears to make fun of in a game called “Pick the Protester.”

Here one can view a trio of mug shots and hazard a guess to questions like “Which protester is unemployed?” and “Which protester is from Wake County?” Game players are also prompted to match arrestees’ last names to the right mug shots.

Some of these people are decidedly not smiling for the camera.

But I’m concerned for all of them, even the ones who are.

I’ve never heard of a state government exacting vengeance against protesting constituents in such a manner – and make no mistake, that is what’s happening. The Civitas Institute is Art Pope, and Art Pope is officially employed in the highest echelons of North Carolina state government.

With this disquieting development, my own irritation with some of the protesters is superseded by something that bothers me a lot more: a government that would jeer the jobless instead of helping them.

Another irony: the News & Observer can’t really go there. It too prominently displays mug shots and arrest records, and of people who are frequently more down-trodden than some of the Moral Monday protesters.

Perhaps the paper has a little more in common with the Civitas Institute than it realizes. And less with the people who will be hit hardest by policies that cut unemployment insurance benefits and block Medicaid.

But it’s still not too late to focus on what they have to say instead of a self-congratulatory history professor.