The Moral Monday movement did not adjourn with the North Carolina General Assembly this season. Instead, its cause has picked up steam as its supporters travel across the state to further protest conservative policies stemming from the state legislature. More recently, NAACP and Moral Monday leader Rev. William Barber is confronting Art Pope, Gov. Pat McCrory’s state budget director, by protesting Pope’s financing of Republican causes from profits at his Variety Wholesalers stores.
This state-wide protest represents a calculated move by the Moral Monday movement to amass power and influence in a state that is deeply divided by partisan politics. It shows the movement is following through with its promise to continue protests even after the session ended. This strategy prompts the question: does the Moral Monday movement have staying power? And, what will its political consequences be? It’s clear, based on research, that if Moral Monday wants to continue to influence state, and even national, politics, it should model itself on the grassroots organization of the initial Tea Party movement.
The Tea Party and Moral Monday movements share similar beginnings. The Tea Party was born from an offhand comment by CNBC reporter Rick Santelli against President Obama’s mortgage plan. He called capitalists to attend a “Chicago Tea Party” to protest the policy, launching a nationwide Internet movement that picked up on the “Tea Party” phase (Williamson 26). Local groups began holding small scale protests, which picked up national attention and grew rapidly. The protest peaked on April’s Tax Day and in September of 2010 when thousands of Tea Partiers marched on Washington (Williamson 26). But what really validated the Tea Party movement was when activists and supporters influenced dozens of electoral races nationwide. Conservative Republicans latched onto the anger of the grassroots participants, emboldening them to adopt strictly conservative stances. While the energy of the movement has since faded, and was greatly hindered by the government shutdown, it should be regarded as a model for effective grassroots organization. Williams states, “At the grassroots level, Tea Parties are small, loosely interrelated networks, assembled at the initiative of local and regional organizers, who often use online organizing tools” (Williamson 28). This flexible model allowed for more participants, which in turn, resulted in greater influence.
Moral Monday has a similar grassroots composition of participants and supporters. During the most recent legislative session, more than 800 Moral Monday participants were arrested for peacefully protesting at the General Assembly. A wide variety of people participated, ranging in race, economic status and religion. This diversity signals a significant group of voters Democrats in the state should capitalize on. While Moral Monday shares the same grassroots values as the Tea Party, it has so far failed to select specific candidates to back as a means to fight against conservative politics. So far, the only steps the movement has taken is to encourage more people to register to vote in the next election. Yet that effort will likely prove futile considering gerrymandering Republicans enacted to protect their districts. Instead, Moral Monday needs to select specific candidates to support. This will put a political face to the movement beyond Rev. Barber and rally more supporters to join their cause. Beyond state politics, Sen. Kay Hagan is the obvious choice for the first candidate to back. She faces a formidable Republican force fighting her re-election, and she can stand to gain a larger following in the state.
Yet the Tea Party and Moral Monday differ in how they frame issues, which could dictate the future of their movements.The Tea Party is in support of narrowly defined conservative issues. It classifies issues into simple dichotomies, like big vs. small government and freeloader vs. hard-working taxpayer (Williamson 34). I believe that this approach to policy serves to alienate mainstream voters from their cause. In comparison, Moral Monday has the capability to be a more effective political force than the Tea Party, because it represents more universally shared values. For example, Moral Monday advocates for higher teacher pay, equal access to the voting booth and funding for social programs. These can be viewed as middle-of-the-road positions that can be accepted by either party. Therefore, Moral Monday has a shot at amassing more followers than the Tea Party because its cause appeals to a larger demographic, and thus, will see greater success in its political future.
Skocpol, Theda, and Vanessa Williamson. The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. Print.