As forecast yesterday (All hell breaks loose: North Carolina GOP’s coup d'état starts tomorrow), all hell did indeed break loose in the North Carolina General Assembly yesterday as Republican super-majority legislators rammed bill after bill past helpless minority Democrats, systematically stripping incoming governor-elect Roy Cooper (D) of executive powers previously enjoyed in full measure by outgoing Governor Pat McPotty (R).
I spent the day dashing between the House and Senate visitors’ galleries, liveblogging the proceedings. Or trying to, anyway. But early on in the morning’s Senate proceedings, frustration and outright disgust with the rape of democracy they were witnessing moved a handful of gallery visitors to hiss at a Republican legislator’s particularly absurd assertion (“This bill seeks to remove partisan politics from the electoral process”), providing the Republican chairman just the opportunity he needed to order the gallery cleared of visitors by the sergeant at arms.
The clearing of the gallery was a relatively orderly process. Perhaps the closest thing to disorder was provided by myself, as I somewhat heatedly attempted to explain to a couple of hissing hotheads that they had just accomplished nothing other than to allow the proceedings to continue on in the dark, out of view of the public, just as Senate Republicans wished. It was a teachable moment, in which I managed to connect with at least one of the youngsters.
I’ll admit that my motives probably weren’t entirely selfless. Just as the chairman ordered the gallery cleared, readership of our liveblog was arcing up into the high thousands — folks all over the nation eager to know what the hell was going on in North Carolina, but who would no longer benefit from our living witness. Unlike ‘real journalists’ whose press passes allow them on the chamber floor, bloggers are dependent upon access to the public gallery only.
But the broohaha in the Senate proved to be only an appetizer heralding what was to come later in the day, when the House gaveled into order.
After Republicans rammed through confirmations of three Superior Court judgeship appointments made by lame duck Gov. McPotty, crusading African American Rep. Michaux (D) rose to ever so politely excoriate the proceedings, which members of the Democratic caucus assert are unconstitutional.
Demonstrating particularly inept timing, a pastor from Stokes County, seated quite near me, suddenly rose to his feet. “Mr. Speaker,” he shouted, interrupting Michaux. “Mr. Speaker: all political power...comes from the people!” Then a young woman seated behind him rose too. I was struck by the steely look on her face — a look that, for just one crazy instant, left me hoping she wasn’t wearing a suicide vest under her shirt...it was that kind of look. “All political power...comes from the people!” she joined in. One by one, across the gallery packed with perhaps 150 observers, about a dozen people rose to their feet to join in the chant.
I couldn’t help but notice the smile of unconcealed pleasure on Speaker Moore’s face as he ordered the sergeant at arms to clear the gallery. “Get out NOW!” the sergeant at arms bellowed at us, as I struggled to transmit the liveblog’s last sentence and gather up the tangle of power cords, notebooks, computer and cell phone in my lap.
As most of us filed out quietly, a dozen or so protestors remained behind to be arrested, among them Duke University historian Timothy Tyson (a close advisor of NC-NAACP’s Rev. William Barber), Chapel Hill city councilperson Maria Palmer, and an unnamed 85 year-old grandma.
We (Insightus) are not present at the General Assembly today, because the situation is not conducive to liveblogging, which is what we bring to the table. But the NC-NAACP’s Twitter account documents many more arrests today as the galleries are once again cleared.
Yep. All hell is breaking loose. I think I can be forgiven for feeling like I’ve suddenly awakened to find myself trapped in a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
And I find myself, strangely, of two minds. Non-violent civil disobedience is a powerful tool in our kit, and I salute those who use it selflessly and fearlessly in a just cause. But there’s a time and place for everything, and from my own perspective attempting to transmit information regarding the Assembly’s proceedings to an interested audience, I don’t feel that the place is inside the gallery, where such actions must inevitably cut off public access to those proceedings. Out on the street in front of the Assembly building, fine. Inside the Assembly’s public rotunda (as the NAACP has so often done in the past, and is doing today), fantastic. But if I had my druthers, I would say “not in the gallery, please...don’t let them close the legislature’s proceedings from the public eye.”
Superb video documentation of yesterday’s excitement, courtesy of Fusion Films, here: December 15th Action at the North Carolina General Assembly. I’m the grumpy old man in several scenes who’s as busy as a one-armed paperhanger trying to not get arrested.