People have the power, but don’t seem to know that

By Tom Joyce

July 27, 2013

Folks spend a lot of time griping about how bad things are, no matter if it’s the government, high gas prices, the weather, the poor quality of television, you name it — there’s always plenty of criticism to go around.

On a good day, we can offer up a steady stream of complaints to anyone who will listen.

People like me who are in the news business are as guilty of this as anyone. A good chunk of our time is spent on reporting stories about one group of people attacking what another has done, and even after that we write editorials or columns griping about it, too.

But did you ever stop and think that the person to be blamed for much of our problems is staring back at us from the mirror? Of course, that is true for the personal decisions we make and actions we take, which sometimes don’t turn out well despite our best intentions.

Consider, also, that much of those other, societal things we complain about — i.e. the government, high gas prices and even bad TV — are our fault as well. That’s because we the people have the ultimate power to control just about everything that goes on in this country, except perhaps the weather.

Yet we rarely use that power, due to apathy, lack of energy or inspiration, or whatever, and we are stuck with what we get — and deservedly so, due to everyone basically sitting back and letting it happen. In other words, we have met the enemy and he is us.

The value of taking a stand has become apparent with the Moral Monday protests that have been held each week in Raleigh by citizens upset over recent actions of the Republican-controlled N.C. General Assembly. Mainly they are concerned by what they consider drastic budget-cutting actions that will impact public education and vulnerable sectors such as the elderly.

Now on the other hand, there are plenty of citizens who applaud the state Legislature’s austerity measures, having become sick and tired of years of Democratic rule in the state capital and seemingly never-ending taxation. Accompanying the much-publicized cuts by the House and Senate will be monetary relief for citizens, which I have heard will even include no sales tax on food.

However, my purpose here today is not to defend either position, but point out how the Moral Monday phenomenon is a positive sign indicating that people are more willing to hit the streets to protest government actions than they have been. The same can be said of protests by Tea Partiers, the Occupy Wall Street movement and others. As a person who grew up in the protest-happy 1960s, it is refreshing to see people gather in such ways once again.

Those involved in the Moral Monday protests have shown they are willing to leave their air-conditioned cocoons, ride to Raleigh, stand in the hot sun and get arrested — just to express their dissatisfaction with government.

Some would argue that the Moral Monday events are overly “sanitized” since protesters don’t actually disrupt the legislative chambers while sessions are under way, and the whole arrest process is handled with the smoothness and efficiency of a Tupperware party.

But this is a start, people. The Moral Monday movement in North Carolina is being held up around the nation as a model for grass-roots protests, despite the fact state lawmakers haven’t exactly altered their course in response — so far. And while those protests might lack some of the fury that fits my definition of public unrest, who knows, they could be a first step toward something really productive.

What I’d like to see is the Moral Monday effort becoming a catalyst for Americans to regularly harness the awesome power at our disposal and use it for the public good.

We need to look no further than the Civil Rights Movement for an example of how this can work. People of color who were sick and tired of being treated like second-class citizens got together and held a series of organized protests around the country to demand better.

Just think of the progress that could be made today on issues such as tax reform, campaign financing, jobs, high health-care costs — and even bad TV — if the populace would have a show of force every now and then.

We already do this to a certain extent in the marketplace with the spending decisions we make. Movie and rock stars or fashion designers might think they are hot stuff, but they’re nothing if WE THE PEOPLE don’t buy their tickets and CDs or wear their clothes.

Lawmakers, who should be doing the right things without such influence, undoubtedly would change their actions knowing an angry mob would be waiting for them.

I am not advocating a bloody revolution or anarchy to overthrow of the government, but rank-and-file citizens simply using their power to take it back from the corporations and other special interests now in control.

As Thomas Jefferson said: “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”

Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or