Waves of liberal protest are rippling across the South as a newly energized base—fueled by the momentum of the Moral Monday protests in North Carolina—are declaring to the largely Republican establishment that they will no longer be ignored.
Thirty-nine protesters were arrested at the capitol building in Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday during a raucous protest against the GOP-led effort to prohibit Medicaid expansion in the state. In South Carolina, 17 demonstrators were also arrested at the Columbia state house in the third weekly demonstration against lawmakers' refusal to accept federal health care funding.
"The movements are rare stirrings of impassioned, liberal political action," writes Herbert Buchsbaum at the New York Times, "in a region where conservative control of government is as solid as cold grits and Democrats are struggling for survival more than influence."
The focus of these demonstrations was health care, but the rhetoric of those protesting touched upon a wide swath of issues, from education to voting rights to women's health. Spinning off from the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina—which organizes weekly demonstrations and grew into a massive march of more than 80,000 people last month—the demonstrators are borrowing the notion of morality- and agenda-based protests, including issues that resonate with the poor and minority populations in the South.
“We are at the beginning of a new Southern strategy,” said Tim Franzen, the lead organizer behind Moral Monday Georgia, which held its first protest in early January. “The changes we need to make in Georgia to transform the state are going to take years. But with the changing demographics of the South, our victory is inevitable. This train has left the station.”
In orchestrated waves of civil disobedience action, protesters in the Atlanta capitol building interrupted deliberations in the Senate gallery before rallying beneath the main rotunda and then blocking the entrance to Governor Nathan Deal's (R) office with a sit-in.
The target of the action was Deal's opposition to Medicaid expansion in the state. Rev. Raphael Warnock of the Ebenezer Baptist Church—the former pulpit of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.—stood fast in Deal's office before being arrested. "People's lives are at stake," Warnock told reporters. "We're saying if the people's business cannot be done, there will not be business as usual."
"Georgians are standing up to an extreme right-wing agenda in the Georgia Capitol," Franzen declared.
In South Carolina, protesters held up traffic outside the state house in the third weekly action organized by the South Carolina Progressive Network and the Truthful Tuesday coalition. In Florida, Alabama, Wisconsin and New York, similar groups have also formed.
"If you want to change America you’ve got to think states, and if you think states you think southern states," Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, Moral Mondays spokesman, told Common Dreams in an earlier interview.