12:28 p.m. August 6, 2013

The Fusion Next Time

Yesterday, 8-10,000 people filled downtown in my home city of Asheville for the first Moral Monday protest outside of Raleigh. It's an attempt by the legislature's opponents to retain momentum in the off-season, and easily the largest demonstration I've seen here (for context, about 85,000 people live within the city limits).

Moral Monday's main spokesperson, state NAACP head Rev. William Barber, directly invoked something I hadn't heard much of outside of history and poli-sci wonks: fusion politics.

"Fusion politics" involves diverse groups allying to overthrow a ruling political machine. This used to be all the rage in the tumultuous late 1800s, and now only survives in a few vestiges in New York and Minnesota.

In North Carolina, fusionists were an initially powerful coalition between white Populists and black Republicans, both enraged at the ex-Confederate oligarchy. This scared the living shit out of the aristocrats, who crushed it with widespread terrorism and an outright coup d'etat. Led by Governor Charles Aycock, they passed byzantine voting restrictions, mostly targeting African-Americans, but also the Populist poor.

It's an important part of history, but not often invoked in NC politics, partly because the Democratic factions still have an incredibly tangled relation with that era. Put it this way, the Dems still have an annual Vance-Aycock dinner fundraiser.

While both parties have drastically changed since the 1890s, "we're a shifting coalition that sheds its former affiliations, snake-like, every few decades" isn't ever an easy truth to tout to the public.

But Barber and the Moral Monday crew are framing their movement as the return of fusion politics, quoting from the Reconstruction-era state constitution, and even directly comparing the Tea Party to the Redeemer and Red Shirt vigilantes of the 1890s.

As ever in politics, especially in the South, the past ain't even past.