Pat McCrory is the notoriously homophobic former Governor of the US state of North Carolina (2013-17), and a Republican politician who Donald Trump has promised to “take care of”. On the day of Trump’s inauguration in D.C., McCrory found himself cornered by a group of young protesters chanting “shame, shame, shame!” ( à la Game of Thrones). The video of the incident went viral and was picked up by various websites including Huffington Post and The Young Turks. The peaceful protest has also elicited a hostile response from McCrory’s Republican allies in the North Carolina state legislature.
Young Labour activist Daniel W. Round recently posed some questions to Udai Basavaraj, the lead protester and the main voice in the video, to find out more about the incident and the politics behind it. The discussion also goes on to cover some key issues for activists on the American Left in the Trump era, including the debate around electoral vs. movement-based politics.
First of all, could you explain a little bit about McCrory’s time in office in North Carolina and how did people resist his oppressive policies?
The 2016 state election was largely seen as a referendum on McCrory’s vigorous support for State Bill HB2, known as the “bathroom bill”. This requires transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender assigned to them at birth and has caused the loss of millions of dollars of revenue for the state, with sporting events, musicians and others taking their business elsewhere.
Historically, North Carolina was dominated by a Democratic governor and legislature. However, in 2010, the Republicans gained a majority in both the Senate and the House. They immediately began an effort to dismantle the state’s fragile social safety net. In addition, they redrew voting districts to marginalize Latinx and Black communities. In 2012 the governorship turned Republican as well when Pat McCrory was elected. With complete control of the Governorship and the Legislature, the Republicans further attempted to cement their position of power by passing restrictive voter ID laws. The federal appeals court ultimately struck these down. It ruled that these laws were “passed with racially discriminatory intent and targeted African-Americans with almost surgical precision”.
Last December, after losing the election, McCrory led a Special Legislative Session in the last days of his term to strip the incoming Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, of many of his powers. These news laws are currently the subject of a lawsuit.
These events have not been happening without a response from the people. Since 2012 a movement called Moral Monday, led by the NAACP, has been addressing the regressive policies of the NC legislature. People have travelled to Raleigh to protest. It has garnered significant press coverage and is an embarrassment to the legislature. Moral Mondays have spread to other states too. These efforts are good examples of the beginnings of a wider resistance.
Why did you decide to go to the inauguration on 20th January, and did you go with a political organisation?
We were part of a nationwide effort to protest Trump and his policies. In the Triad Area (North Carolina), the International Socialist Organization (ISO) chartered a tour bus and three vans to Washington DC. Community members, students, and other activists joined us to confront the sexism, bigotry, and racism openly and continually expressed by Trump. We raised funds through the Internet and via local events to help reduce the costs of the trip. The bus returned the night of January 20th after the anti-inauguration protests, and the vans stayed for the Women’s March on the 21st.
Before the incident with Pat McCrory, what did you see and do on the day of the inauguration?
We took part in the protests on inauguration day. However, we were unable to get past the security checkpoints at Navy Memorial to enter the sanctioned protest zone. The Secret Service intentionally blocked access to the site. After being unable to enter, we walked to a second protest site near Columbus Circle. There, we joined other comrades and engaged in a permitted march.
Did you know where McCrory would be or was it a chance encounter on the street?
After the march near Columbus Circle concluded, we started making our way to another event. It was at this point that someone in our group spotted Pat McCrory, the former Governor of North Carolina, and Lou Dobbs, a Fox Business News personality. We came up with a plan on the spot, and the result is the video that I posted online.
You get a real sense from the footage that you were collectively experiencing a mix of emotions during the encounter – from anger at the man to joy at the chance to take him on. Can you explain what it meant to you personally?
We came up with a plan and a chant on the spot. I was first to lead, but I had 15 comrades close behind me. The action wouldn’t have worked if I had been alone. The incident was immensely satisfying to all in the group. These politicians are essentially untouchable. They walk the revolving door of politics between government and industry. They ruin lives and cause deaths by denying people social services. I knew what we were doing was important, and I hope that we have inspired others to do the same.
Since the incident, Republican lawmakers in North Carolina have suggested that basic peaceful protest of the type you engaged in could be made illegal. Could you explain a little bit about what has been proposed, and what is your response?
McCrory deserved to be cornered and shamed in an alley. But our action was nothing compared to the way he and his posse cornered, marginalized, and shamed millions of tax payers in this state with vicious legislation and made North Carolina and its Legislature the laughing stock of the nation. The failure of NC to accept ACA Medicaid Expansion Funds alone is resulting in deaths according to a Harvard and CUNY study. Meanwhile McCory and his cabal spend more time worrying about the unborn…
We don’t really know for sure what is going to happen, but a Republican Senator by the name of Dan Bishop has suggested that such heckling should come with a five year prison sentence.
Senator Bishop has been a key ally of McCrory. Could you talk about his regressive role in North Carolina?
Dan Bishop has a long history of demagoguery. The American Civil Liberties Union gives him a 0% ranking on civil rights. On any issue that is about improving the material conditions of the working class in this state, you can bet that Bishop is against it. He was the sponsor of HB2, the notorious “bathroom bill”. He also co-sponsored the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against gay people. Fortunately, the second bill was pulled before it was submitted for a vote. Even Bishop, a dim-witted ambulance chasing lawyer in the snake pit that we call the NC legislature, understood the constitutional absurdity of such a law. It has not stopped him, however from using demagoguery at every opportunity to advance his career. Dan Bishop, like Trump, is a bully, and bullies use positions of power to attack those without power. Now that those bullies are being exposed they want laws to protect them.
If Senator Bishop was really interested in a vibrant inclusive democracy he would help repeal HB2, and every piece of toxic legislation that was passed during the December Special. Bishop deserves to be shamed as well as McCrory, and my colleagues and I look forward to an opportunity to do so.
Could you comment on the positive reaction to your protest?
The video has over 100,000 hits. We never thought it would go as viral as it did. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. A lot of people shared the video with short statements of solidarity. Some thanked me “for my service”. I thought the Young Turks’ coverage was wonderful.
Do you think that activists can drag the Democratic Party to the Left over the next few years?
The goal of dragging the Democratic Party to the Left is a Sisyphean effort. History shows us that the Democratic Party is the graveyard of progressive movements. What we are seeing now, with the election of Trump, is working class disillusionment with the two-party system. The US is not a right-wing nation. The election of Trump is not due to a “basket of deplorables” as Hillary Clinton called them. The deplorables are in Congress, and enjoy a 10% approval rating. Trump was elected because both parties have less than nothing to offer the working class in this country. Clinton and Trump were the two most disliked presidential candidates in modern history. Clinton is proof that the Democratic Party will never cede to the left and would rather lose elections than do so. The party forever puts forward the idea of a big inclusive tent during the primaries, and then proceeds to throw progressives under the bus soon after the primaries are over. The Democratic National Committee, who set the terms of engagement, has been directing this effort for decades. As Wikileaks exposed, the DNC worked hard to sabotage Sanders from the very beginning. Even otherwise, they can ensure victory of the establishment candidate by means of “super-delegates” as a last resort. There is nothing democratic about the Democratic Party. The last time an “outsider” won the primaries was in 1976. That man was Jimmy Carter. Incidentally, he was forced to sell his peanut farm to avoid a conflict of interest, after a 6 month investigation by a special prosecutor. Fast forward to today, and it’s now acceptable for a billionaire to retain interests in vast real estate empire while sitting in the White House.
The only hope for this country, at least in terms of electoral politics, is a third-party, but it will take a huge effort to make this a reality. The good news is that Bernie Sanders exposed a whole new generation to progressive politics. The word Socialism has now become mainstream. And Trump has made America protest again! Cities around the country are uniting as people have stepped out into the street in record numbers to resist Trump.
Bernie Sanders’ candidacy surprised everyone and he faced the full force of the Democratic Party establishment. But for a while it looked like he had a real chance of winning. Another candidate standing on a similar, leftish social democratic platform could quite feasibly have beaten Clinton in the primaries, and after four years of Trump the appetite for radical politics will be even greater among the young, diverse members of the Democratic base. Furthermore, and mirroring somewhat the efforts of the Momentum grouping within the British Labour Party, there are now a couple of groups within the Democratic Party that have the expressed aim of moving it away from the donors, away from neoliberal economics, and towards the type of policies that the Sanders campaign advocated. Obviously there are big differences between the British Labour Party and the US Democratic Party in relation to class-based politics, but given the tectonic shifts going on in the US at the moment, would you personally completely rule-out pursuing the electoral avenue in addition to helping build radical, autonomous movements via groups such as Black Lives Matter?*
*N.B. this question was posed before the establishment-backed Tom Perez was voted Chair of the DNC over Sanders’ ally Ralph Ellison.
There is an excellent book by Lance Selfa called “The Democrats: A Critical History” that I would recommend to everyone. It helps answer this question in great detail. The death of labour in the country can really be traced back to 1936 and its support of Roosevelt in that election. Labour lost its independence at that crucial juncture, and it’s been targeted and decimated in bipartisan fashion by both parties ever since. Today the unionization rate in North Carolina is 2%; nationwide it’s 11%. It’s going to be very hard for unions to be the key players in any future progressive electoral campaigns with those numbers. But I think class analysis can be put forward using many strategies. As the Occupy Movement showed us, we don’t necessarily need Labour as the starting point for class politics. Thanks to Occupy, “the 1% vs. the 99%” is now a household phrase. Black Lives Matter is another example of where class analysis has played a significant and motivating part of its activities.
Bernie Sanders and Trump are clear evidence that the working class in this country is desperate for answers and desperate for change. But they also show us that the straightjacket of the two-party system leads to a dead-end.
Building radical autonomous movements independent of electoral politics is a priority for the Left. But we have also seen strong examples of socialist and progressive organizations engaging in the political process. In Seattle, Kshama Sawant, a member of Socialist Alternative, was elected to City Council and led a successful campaign for a $15 minimum wage. In Vermont, the Vermont Progressive Party (VPP) controls Burlington City Hall and has members in both chambers of the statehouse. Balancing grass-roots organizing and electoral politics is difficult, especially when socialist organizations in this country are so small. But with strategic and informed intervention, it might be possible.
Finally, returning to North Carolina and your own activities – what comes next in the resistance against Trump in a state that is, perhaps more than most, divided along the defining fault lines that have been exposed in recent months?
In this state, I will continue to do what I have been doing. I will engage in movement building. I will engage with BLM, Moral Mondays, and the Sanctuary City Movement. We are seeing the very beginnings of the coalescing of these movements and it bodes well for socialist groups like the ISO and, more broadly, the Left. It’s absolutely necessary to fight the Republican led legislature along with sympathetic Democrats but it’s also necessary not to join them. Recent history shows us the pitfalls in doing so. In Wisconsin in 2011, the Capitol was occupied by thousands of protestors. At one point close to 100,000 people were demonstrating their opposition to Governor Scott Walker’s regressive “Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill”. The movement was radicalising and becoming more class conscious. The response of the Wisconsin Democratic Party was utterly cynical and self-serving. It successfully marginalised the movement by diverting all of that energy into an electoral effort — a recall campaign. Protestors who were out in the streets demanding justice and even thinking about strike action were told to start knocking on doors collecting signatures for the recall. The recall campaign lost and Wisconsin remains yet another example of how the Democratic Party crushes radical movements.
Both parties in this country would prefer that “activism” be defined by engagement in an electoral campaign. We can see this reflected by some signs at protests in which 2020 is put forward as the solution to the country’s problems. Unfortunately, we can’t wait four more years while Trump’s policies destroy the environment, impoverish the country’s working class, and disenfranchise its minorities. The time to act is now. Trump is much more vulnerable than he seems, and the two-party system has never been more exposed as being fruitless and ineffectual than it is now. I think these are exciting (and somewhat scary) times for the Left, but I’m confident that there are YUGE things to come.
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