Two articles on North Carolina came to my attention this morning. First, it appears that NC is convulsing with the same sort of protests that ground Wisconsin to a halt and led to sweeping progressive change:
Raging grannies, student groups, professors, internationally known physicians, historians, members of the NAACP, all are coming together to protest at the General Assembly of North Carolina and to place themselves at risk of arrest. Acts of civil disobedience have swept Raleigh, the state capital, and are planned to recur well into the future. Blame it all on the Tea Party.
Four months ago, Tea Party candidates took over the state government–both chambers of the General Assembly, as well as the governorship. Together, the newly elected office holders have been hellbent on eviscerating every social program they can get their hands on in the name of doing “the people’s business.”
I don’t consider myself an expert on protest politics, but I do include a section on it in a class I teach. What I know is that protest politics are good at raising the visibility of an issue (or basket of related issues), and might nudge public opinion. In the American context, that’s usually the best result one can aspire to. What it almost certainly will not lead to is the Pollyannish cheer leading from the article linked above:
What’s happening in North Carolina–and that it’s happening in North Carolina–may be the greatest sign of hope this country has seen in a long, long time. If there is a groundswell there, one just might be building that’s powerful enough to sweep the entire nation.
That won’t happen.
The second article outlines the events and actors that led to the Tea Party assuming control of North Carolina in the first place.
Cash from groups backed by the Koch brothers and others helped North Carolina Republicans build a robust conservative infrastructure and fundraising network, leading to the GOP winning both the governor’s mansion and the state legislature in the same year for the first time since Reconstruction.
That takeover didn’t come overnight, but it caught Democrats by surprise, especially since Barack Obama carried the state in 2008 and lost only by 2 percentage points last year.
I question the direct causal claim implied above, and a) “carried the state” is perhaps a bit sweeping for a 0.32% plurality, but b) the money, organisation, and, well, the money definitely helped at the margins. North Carolina was always going to be a hard sell for Obama in 2012, but the changes at the state level do appear to be historic.
I’m sympathetic to protest politics, and understand the dynamics that lead to it as an expression of (small d) democratic participation. I’ve even participated in a few out of solidarity. Did those protests make any difference in policy? No. Did Wisconsin? No. Will North Carolina? No. In order to have a chance at making a difference where it really matters in terms of policy outputs, ground level organisation and money are required. This isn’t nearly as romantic or visible as a good protest, but it stands a better chance of actually, you know, working.