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Wednesday, December 07, 2016


Forward together now

by Tom Sullivan

Photo via HKonJ People's Assembly Coalition..

There is a certain kind of activist for whom if you are not giving your full attention to whatever issue they think is most important at whatever time they they think you ought to — no matter whatever else is on your plate or on your mind — no further evidence is required (or desired) to prove you are not a real progressive, hopelessly corrupt, and probably incompetent. Such people cannot be placated and are a time suck. Avoid them.

I thought about that again yesterday minutes before running across Nancy LeTorneau's post about what it takes to sustain an opposition movement. Part of the problem, I contend, is what I just wrote. Another part is voters pay more attention to anger and opposition than to sustained change. For example, while Donald Trump won North Carolina in 2016, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory lost. Public Policy Polling's Tom Jensen credits the Rev. William Barber's Moral Monday movement for bringing him down. McCrory entered office in January 2013 looking like a moderate. He governed as an extremist:

But the Moral Monday movement pushed back hard. Its constant visibility forced all of these issues to stay in the headlines. Its efforts ensured that voters in the state were educated about what was going on in Raleigh, and as voters became aware of what was going on, they got mad. All those people who had seen McCrory as a moderate, as a different kind of Republican, had those views quickly changed. By July McCrory had a negative approval rating- 40% of voters approving of him to 49% who disapproved. By September it was all the way down to 35/53, and he never did fully recover from the damage the rest of his term.

Moral Mondays became a very rare thing- a popular protest movement. In August 2013 we found 49% of voters had a favorable opinion of the protesters to only 35% with an unfavorable opinion of them. And their message was resonating- 50% of voters in the state felt state government was causing North Carolina national embarrassment to only 34% who disagreed with that notion.
But part of the problem with sustaining such a victory is getting it noticed (and remembered). LeTourneau elaborates:
The truth is that American voters tend to resonate with a message of opposition more than they do to a message of sustained change. That is not necessarily a unique insight. We’ve known for a while that anger mobilizes more effectively than anything else. And Mario Cuomo captured something important when he said, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” The prose of governing doesn’t tend to sell as well to the public as the anger of opposition.
The country is aware (if only vaguely) of the protests surrounding the Dakota access pipeline. LeTorneau continues:
What has gone almost unnoticed are the promises kept by President Obama to Native Americans over his two terms in office. I chronicled them here when he announced that he would restore Mount Denali’s original name. Even before work was completed on the settlement of over 100 claims by various tribes for $3.3 billion, Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker named Obama “the best president for Indian Country in the history of the United States.” For the most part, that story has not been told.
If we are to sustain progress, we had best spend more time broadcasting our victories before grousing about what's left undone. Trump is not even in office yet and gets credit for the Carrier deal. Whatever its flaws, people will remember it as a success: his. As a friend reminded me, President George W. Bush sent every taxpayer a rebate within months of taking office. Not only that, as I recall, Bush sent mail to the entire country in advance of the actual rebate to tell people a second letter would soon follow with "their money" enclosed. Your "small government" tax dollars at work. At work making sure nobody missed what he had just done. And guess what? I still remember a decade and a half later.

Part of what makes Moral Mondays successful is that it is a nonpartisan, "fusion politics" movement, a populist coalition in which a host of issues move "Forward Together," as the movement's name suggests, and no one's pet issue takes precedence. Don't expect Moral Mondays to go away because Pat McCrory did. Newer and bluer oranger Meanies have been sighted in the vicinity of the nation's capitol. Barber's is a successful template for taking them on.

Barber's next annual HKonJ rally (Historic Thousands on Jones Street, site of the NC legislature in Raleigh) is scheduled tentatively for February 11, 2017. When last I attended, local papers claimed 80,000 were in the streets. And that was just to protest Pat McCrory. Next year's march should be yoooge.

All together now ...

Update (like I said): North Carolina: A Case Study for Resistance in the Trump Era