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Discounting dissension

State Sen. Thom Goolsby (R-Wilmington) describes the peaceful protests that have taken place in Raleigh as “Moron Monday,” a feeble attempt to satirize the “Moral Monday” demonstrations at the state Capitol.
In an oped published in the Chatham Journal and reprinted elsewhere on this page, this is how Goolsby described the protests, which have involved the state NAACP, religious leaders, teachers, representatives of nonprofit groups and advocates for the jobless and the poor: “Several hundred people — mostly white, angry, aged former hippies — appeared and screeched into microphones, talked about solidarity and chanted diatribes. It was ‘liberal theater’ at its best. …”
What’s interesting about Goolsby’s characterization of the protests — and that of Gov. Pat McCrory, who has suggested the protests are inspired by meddlesome outsiders — is that they revealed no such disdain for the Tea Party activism that was boiling up around the nation and state not that long ago. When droves of Tea Party adherents gathered in Raleigh accompanied by bagpipes, marching bands and honking horns, were they being moronic — or were they expressing pent-up frustration with governmental policies they believed ill-conceived, if not downright destructive? When Tea Party protesters showed up dressed in revolutionary period costume, even toting muskets, was it simply “conservative theater” — or was it symbolic of something more significant?
When the Tea Party Express convoyed around the country, inciting provincial crowds, was it “outsider” intervention, or simply the convergence of people of kindred values, beliefs and political goals?
As a legislator who was swept into office on the Tea Party wave, Goolsby should recognize the dangers of trivializing grassroots discontent. Demeaning the opposition is, of course, standard operating procedure in politics as practiced by both major parties. Still, Goolsby’s characterization of the Moral Monday protests is both over the top in its cartoonish exaggeration and willfully shortsighted if he believes the protesters’ grievances — voting access, public education, poverty and health care — can be so blithely dismissed. Arrests at the capitol do provide a media spectacle, but this “theater” is all too real for those affected by classroom cutbacks or vanishing jobless benefits.
As for what the Moral Monday protests may portend at the ballot box (or not), time and future election cycles will tell. For now, rather than ridiculing the protesters as inconsequential morons, Goolsby and his colleagues should view them as what they are — a growing group of very concerned citizens.

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