Editorial: Protests seem unlikely to dissuade legislators

May. 14, 2013 @ 01:06 AM

The state NAACP has pledged a weekly civil-disobedience campaign called “Moral Mondays” at the General Assembly in protest of what the civil rights group calls the extremist agenda of the legislature’s Republican leadership.

Thirty people were arrested last Monday, a week after 17 protesters were taken into custody. The protesters were back again Monday. They say they will keep heading back to the capital in Raleigh to risk arrest.

Risking arrest while marching, standing or sitting in place in protest is a time-honored element of non-violent, civil disobedience to draw attention to a cause and demonstrate how strongly those protesting feel about it.

But we question whether the cause in this case is clear and tangible enough for this tactic to be effective.

A comparison has been made between these protests and ones in the past for large social issues – sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, marches in the Jim Crow South, even the college campus protests of the 1980s against South Africa’s racist policies.

The ability of protests like this to galvanize opinion depends in part on the visceral reaction they prompt in the middle-of-the-road citizen who may not be aware of the issue. It helps if people can actually see the wrong being committed, not just the protest. Show a case of injustice, and most people recognize it as unfair and unjust.

But the targets of the current protests are things like raising sales taxes to pay for lower corporate and individual income tax rates. Activists say the Republican agenda on social programs, voting rights, education and tax policy disproportionately hurts the poor and minorities.

When it comes to what you can actually show people to make that case, it’s not exactly Bull Connor with dogs and fire hoses. Because the policies in question haven’t taken effect yet, there’s not much to illustrate the wrongs that activists say will come about.

Scenes of protesters being arrested week after week likely are not enough by themselves to galvanize public opinion.

That doesn’t mean the cause isn’t worthy, but it raises questions about the tactic. A more effective way to win an argument in the General Assembly is to win the election first.