GOP Overlords Rule with Handcuffs
A dozen North Carolinians had the brazen idea that, as American citizens, they could exercise their right to express their concerns to one of their elected representatives, Thom Tillis, who is the general assembly’s Speaker of the House.
They waited patiently for 10 hours in Tillis’ office in the state Capitol late last month. Then police charged them with trespassing, handcuffed them, and hauled them out of the people’s house.
These Moral Monday protesters didn’t understand the situation as Tillis did or, for that matter, from the perspective of his fellow hardline Republicans from Wisconsin to Georgia. The way GOP hardliners see it, Tillis is the Speaker. He speaks, and everybody else shuts up and listens. These lawmakers don’t represent constituents in a constitutional democracy. They are overlords. And as rulers over the people, they’ve awarded themselves the power to muzzle and handcuff anyone who disagrees with them.
While styling themselves as defenders of the constitution and protectors of individual rights, hardline GOPers, in practice, protect their own power and position by violating the Constitution and denying individuals their rights. Just take North Carolina for example.
There, Moral Monday activists gathered at the Capitol weekly for months last year, protesting the general assembly’s voter suppression laws, cuts to unemployment benefits, denial of expanded Medicaid benefits to the working poor under the Affordable Care Act, repeal of the Racial Justice Act, and tax cuts for the rich. These demonstrations resumed this year, with 80,000 rallying at the first one in Raleigh in February. And they’ve spread across the south, to Georgia and South Carolina. In Alabama, the weekly events are called Truthful Tuesdays.
Last year, police arrested 945 of these protesters when they entered the North Carolina Capitol to make their voices heard after congregating outside to hear speeches, chant and sing spirituals. They got lots of publicity. And their popularity soared while that of the GOP-controlled general assembly plummeted.
This, of course, annoyed hardline Republicans responsible for the policies the activists protested. So this year, they did something about it. No, they didn’t “repent, repeal and restore,” as the activists requested. Instead, the hardliners attempted to represss, rescind and revoke the citizens’ constitutional rights.
The Republican majority in the North Carolina legislature adopted rules making it a crime – a misdemeanor – for citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights to assembly, speech and protest in the Capitol, legislative office buildings and the grounds.
The rules forbid citizens who enter the Capitol buildings from “disturbing” lawmakers or their staff members. This includes singing, clapping, shouting and playing musical instruments. No Christmas carols in the North Carolina Capitol! Skulking lobbyists, however, are welcome.
That’s not all, though. The rule says police may arrest and criminally charge a citizen who poses an “imminent disturbance.” They didn’t define imminent disturbance, though. So, depending on the law enforcement officer, an imminent disturbance could be giving a lawmaker a dirty look. It could be carrying a hymnal. It could be walking with two hands capable of clapping.
The rules also outlaw signs on sticks and placards that would “disturb” a lawmaker or legislative staffer. So, basically, picketing on public grounds at the state Capitol is barred. Under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, North Carolina GOP State Senator Thom Goolsby was free to denigrate the protest as “Moron Monday” in an op-ed published in the Chatham Journal. But if Goolsby were “disturbed” by a citizen scrawling “Goolsby is a moron” on cardboard and carrying it in the Capitol, the legislative rules give the GOP lawmaker the power to order guards to confiscate it and charge the citizen with a crime.