Not because jail is chic. Hardly.
It’s because Alabama is beset with those who ignore poverty and admire demagoguery.
It’s because Alabama’s governor would rather flash the federal government the evil eye than accept millions in Medicaid funding.
It’s because the most radical of Alabama’s lawmakers, without fail or moral acceptance, demonize Latinos and pursue Neanderthal-styled legislation.
It’s because Alabama’s legislators tell the state’s poor that they don’t matter; that their lives aren’t as important as funding for this and that; that it’s OK to tax food but not OK to increase taxes on the upper crust.
It’s because power-gorged political addicts in Montgomery are often unresponsive to fact. They ignore it, Alabama’s versions of flat-Earth believers.
Alabama needs more souls who are fed up. Who see this version of the state Legislature — the first Republican-controlled Legislature since Reconstruction — as anathema to fair, modern-day government.
But where are they?
Why aren’t Alabamians marching on the Statehouse? Why aren’t Alabamians filling the halls of Montgomery in modern sit-ins for better government?
The answer is simple: Too many Alabamians agree with these patterns of inequality, demagoguery and reputation-gutting legislation. Regardless of political leanings, they like Alabama as it is. They think it’s fine that the governor flicks Washington away like a bothersome flea, that Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh orchestrates fast-track legislation without democratic debate, that firebrands such as Sen. Scott Beason and Reps. Micky Hammon and Kerry Rich are empowered, not emasculated.
When will our Moral Mondays begin?
In North Carolina, that’s what they’re calling weekly protests at the state Capitol in Raleigh. Though began by the NAACP, the Moral Mondays have evolved into multi-racial, cross-denomination shows of force against draconian policies of state government.
This isn’t the labor protests seen in recent years in Wisconsin; neither are they simple Democrat vs. Republican arguments. These are Southerners — black and white, Catholic and Protestant, Jew and agnostic, young and old — telling leaders that all is not fine in a world in which lawmakers ignore the poor, restrict access to the ballot, pass xenophobic laws and move the state away, not toward, modern-day progress.
This week, the biggest Moral Monday yet arrived in Raleigh, more than a thousand protesters strong. Hundreds of clergy, rabbis, priests and pastors, knowing they’d risk arrest, assembled in the Capitol. They stood, unmoving, praying and singing, when told to disperse by police guarding against civil disobedience. One by one, methodically and peacefully, protesters were cuffed with plastic bands, marched to buses and escorted to jail. Their misdemeanor charges: trespassing, failure to disperse and violating legislative building laws.
Eighty-four were jailed. More than 350 have been arrested since the Moral Mondays began in late April.
That same day, a collection of North Carolina rabbis released a statement to the Charlotte Observer, saying, “Many of us have previously attempted to reach out to Assembly leaders for dialogue, and we have been ignored. We therefore endorse the use of nonviolent civil disobedience to draw attention to the reckless and heartless policies currently passing into law in Raleigh. ... We recognize the need for solidarity at this time in North Carolina. The Jewish vision of social justice is broadly shared by all people of faith who are mobilizing this Monday, and now is the time to speak out.”
The Rev. William Turner Jr. was one of the jailed clergy. Before being cuffed, he told the Los Angeles Times, “Inequality is more costly than injustice. You can’t kill the poor. There are too many of us, and the numbers grow every day.”
Chris Kromm, director of the Institute for Southern Studies, was among the jailed. He chose to take part. “None of the demonstrators I talked to had made the decision to engage in civil disobedience lightly,” he wrote after his release. “Sitting next to me in jail until the early hours of the morning were teachers, a doctor, a farmer, a former state senator and a veteran of Fort Bragg’s 82nd Airborne — people from all walks of life who care deeply about the future of North Carolina and feel like they are running out of options to make their voices heard in the halls of power.”
North Carolina isn’t Alabama; its history, in politics and race relations, imparts a different tone. There, progressivism isn’t cancerous. It makes for problematic comparisons.
Yet, the comparisons are unavoidable. The complaints voiced in Raleigh can be heard in Montgomery, too. In a brotherhood joining Atlantic Coast and Deep South, North Carolina’s ailments are Alabama’s ailments; only the faces and details vary.
Alabamians wanting a state lessened of demagoguery and improved through equality face tough choices. The most adamant North Carolinians have made theirs.
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.