Monday, July 8, 2013

Moral Mondays in North Carolina and the Shifting Political Landscape of the U.S. South

The political landscape in the Southern United States is changing - and like the geography seen from the window of an airplane, it may look slow, but its careening past us at 500 miles per hour.

The shift, while complicated, seems to have both a push and a pull.

And the pull is coming from the changing demographics in the United States.

For the first time in our nation's history, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that traditionally minority populations have risen to represent nearly half of all children under 5.  The Huffington Post reports:

"Fueled by immigration and high rates of birth, particularly among Hispanics, racial and ethnic minorities are growing more rapidly in numbers than whites. The decline in the U.S. white population has been occurring more quickly than expected, resulting in the first 'natural decrease' for whites – deaths exceeding births – in more than a century, census data show. For now, the non-Hispanic white population continues to increase slightly, but only because of immigration from Europe."

NPR has an excellent feature entitled "Texas 2020" which outlines the rapidly growing Hispanic population in the Lone Star State.  "Within a decade," NPR reports,
"Hispanics are projected to eclipse non-Hispanic whites as the largest race or ethnic group in Texas. It's a development that could someday shift the state's — or, given the size of Texas, even the nation's — politics. eclipse non-Hispanic whites as the largest race or ethnic group in Texas. It's a development that could someday shift the state's — or, given the size of Texas, even the nation's — politics."
This graph does a nice job illustrating the projected rate of change over time.
This pull is, in large part, the reason we have seen such relatively swift and decisive action on immigration reform in the Senate.  But, the bill may not even come up for a vote in the House.  

Senator John McCain spoke to Fox News last week about the importance of the bill: "I really don’t feel it's appropriate for me to tell [Boehner] exactly how he should handle this. But I think Republicans realize the implications for the future of the Republican Party in America if we don't get this issue behind us.”  

McCain is spot on: the implications for the bill are profound.  In the 2012 national election, President Barack Obama won 71% of the Latino vote.       

So that's the pull.  What about the push? 

In 2012, the people of Arkansas elected a majority Republican delegation to represent them in the state capitol.  That election meant, for the first time since Reconstruction, every state from the former Confederacy now has a majority Republican legislature.

The election was especially significant in Arkansas as democrats had controlled the state house since 1874.  

But as the Atlantic recently reported, just as the Southwest of the United States recently underwent a profound electoral shift, so might the American South.   Political operatives from Project New America have launched the Southern Project to monitor the shifting demographics and attitudes towards public policies emerging from state houses.   

The ubiquitous control over Southern politics enjoyed by a single party, whether Republican or Democrat, has, historically, always pushed activists to engage.  The "Solid South" emerging from the New Deal coalition of the early 20th century began to fray in 1948 amidst the Dixiecrat revolution, and President Richard Nixon completed the transition from a solidly democratic South to a solidly republican south with the successful deployment of his southern strategy in the 1968 presidential election.  

The Southern United States, then, was solidly controlled by each of the major parties during the twentieth century, and during each of these eras of complete control activists sought to change their political landscape - sometimes with nonviolent direct action.   

In North Carolina, that's exactly what's happening.  

Initially organized by the NAACP in late April of 2013, "Moral Monday" protests have been taking place at the Capitol building in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina for close to three months.  The number of demonstrators has to more than 2,500 participants from all regions of the state.

Moral Mondays were borne from a concern that legislators in North Carolina were moving, like many states, to restrict voting rights.  In recent weeks, the demonstrators have broadened their focus - and also grown their coalition.

Demonstrators are now asking legislators to address issues ranging from clean water to education policy, and increasingly protestors from the Research Triangle area in Raleigh-Durhams are being joined by citizens from rural Western North Carolina.

The Carolina Public Press reports more than 90 people were arrested at the capitol building in Raleigh last week, and more than 650 have been arrested since the demonstrations began in late April.

The demonstrations continued today, and this editorial makes plain the reason North Carolinians have chosen to go to jail these past three months:

"...when the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People organized the Moral Mondays protests, we were happy to answer the call. 
It wasn't an easy decision. Neither of us had ever been arrested. We obey the law and teach our children to obey it, too.
But we've also been activists on behalf of what we think is right for our state and our country, going back as far as the civil rights movement. And we remember when Dr. Martin Luther King said that 'there comes a time when silence is betrayal.' 
This spring, the irresponsible North Carolina legislature has created one of those times. We had been in legal protests before. 
But they didn't seem to make a dent. 
So last Monday, we stepped up and took our stand."

"The south is the crucible where freedom has been hammered out," said historian Tim Tyson.   "This is the struggle," he continued, "its always about what happens here.  So goes the south, so goes the nation, so goes the world.  See, this fusion movement that's going on - black and brown and white, gay and straight- this is a very important historical moment.  Not just in North Carolina, but I think what happens here is gonna be very important in the history of this country."

What happened in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960 was certainly key to our nation's inexorable move towards becoming a more just place - and Tyson is likely correct: our aspiration to form a "more perfect union" has so often been tempered and tested in the red clay and humidity of the U.S. South.

In Durham and Memphis, Atlanta and Itta Benna, Shreveport and Columbia, the coming years may prove critical to the our nation's ability to understand the continually evolving notions of freedom and democracy.  

No comments:

Post a Comment