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The Moral Monday Movement in North Carolina

Posted on Saturday, July 20th, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Author: Kristin Rawls

You wouldn’t exactly know it if you’re in the habit of following national U.S. news happenings by checking out the front page of major news outlets or watching 24 hour cable news networks, but there’s a people’s uprising underway in the Southeastern state of North Carolina. In the past three months, tens of thousands of people from all over the state have converged at the General Assembly building in Raleigh to protest an extremist ALEC-funded legislative body with a repressive, widely reviled Tea Party agenda.

Unless you happen to live in North Carolina or follow the news here with a fine-toothed comb and a handful of Google alerts, you probably don’t know much about the Moral Monday movement spearheaded by the NC-NAACP or the 150-organization coalition it’s assembled to fight government extremism in the state. It’s no accident that you haven’t heard unless you’re an aggressively active consumer of all things North Carolina – a couple of major news outlets have declined my pitches with the excuse that the story just “isn’t national enough.” And it’s a shame there’s a de facto media blackout because watching the people rise up and fight across social, economic, cultural and racial barriers has been pretty remarkable.

The fight here is partly related to Christian Right ALEC-supported attacks on reproductive freedom in the state. This part of the equation has received some coverage on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, largely in the context of reporting about Texas’ sweeping anti-abortion legislation and the rise of Wendy Davis. A similar bill was sneaked into the North Carolina legislative program earlier this month and quickly forced through despite almost unanimous popular disapproval. And since the North Carolina legislature is not one of the mere 13 state legislative bodies that still has a filibuster, our opposition was unable to create late night nailbiting television or command a national audience.

As frustrating as it is that this fight receives so little national attention, the uprising underway in North Carolina is about more than reproductive freedom. At its core Moral Monday is a fight for democracy, partly a response to Republican attacks on voting rights in the state which have proliferated as popular approval of their leadership has fallen below 20 percent. Without the majority support even of registered Republicans in North Carolina, General Assembly Republicans recognize that the only way to stay in power is to step up gerrymandering, voter ID laws, early voting curtailment and other activities designed to stop people from voting.

And it doesn’t stop there: We’re also fighting racial profiling in our justice system, economic disparity, attacks on public education and an unjust tax code rewrite that favors the wealthy and punishes working class people in our state. It’s the broad inclusiveness of this movement that has made it work and given it staying power.

I’ve marched in protests up and down the East Coast, and this is the most remarkable and inclusive uprising I’ve ever seen unfold in person. Every week, thousands converge at the General Assembly, and every week 100 or so new protesters commit civil disobedience that results in their arrests. All kinds of groups show up these days: Representatives from the NAACP, Black Workers for Justice, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Planned Parenthood-NC, NARAL-NC, Occupy Raleigh, the North Carolina Association of Educators, the North Carolina Council of Churches, Jews for Social Justice, the United Church of Christ, local Quaker organizations, El Pueblo, Inc., the NC Congressional Black Caucus, local business leaders, the North Carolina Justice Center and Equality NC are just a few groups that have jumped in headfirst. Even U.S. Congressman David Price (NC), as mainstream a liberal lawmaker as any could possibly be, came home to speak and offer support one week.

The arts community has enthusiastically endorsed it all too. A collective of musicians calling itself the North Carolina Music Love Army performs new compositions inspired by the protests every week. As on the nose and even silly as their name may sound, this is no group of amateurs. Caitlin Cary, best known nationally for fronting former band Whiskeytown opposite superstar Ryan Adams, has emerged as the collective’s de facto leader along with previous collaborator Jon Lindsay. Other well-known acts involved in the project include Tift Merritt, Hiss Golden Messenger, The Love Language and dozens of others. That’s to say nothing of the dozens of lesser known gospel singers and NAACP-affiliated pastors who show up week upon week to lead Civil Rights era anthems as dozens line up to enter the General Assembly building to commit civil disobedience. Every week I am gobsmacked at the richness of the musical culture all around me – I can’t believe I didn’t have to travel all the way to New Orleans to see something like this happen.

Just as impressive are the individuals from all parts of the state who don’t belong to official organizations or bands and who show up week after week because a depressing political climate in our state means we all need to remember more than ever that we’re all in this together. There are people of all ages and cultural heritages and genders and economic statuses. It helps us remember that this is what the future of our state looks like because sooner or later the Jim Crow throwbacks newly in charge are gonna die out — and we’ll still be here tearing down out of state agitator ALEC and North Carolina Koch affiliate Art Pope piece by piece, no matter what, for as long as it takes.

It is a shame that that national news broadcasters and journalists haven’t paid Wisconsin-level attention to the popular uprising here, at least not much further than that one headline in The Nation that asked, “Is North Carolina the New Wisconsin?” We probably have a few worthwhile things to teach other social movements about the importance of intersectionality and what it takes to build broad-based coalitional support that’s in it for the long haul. In the next several weeks, as the General Assembly legislative assembly comes to an end, we’ll all be taking this fight back to the local districts where the real work will get underway.

In the worst political climate this state has seen since Jim Crow, I’ve never been more convinced that North Carolinians are basically good, generous and inclusive people. I’m not so sure I could go anywhere else in the country and find disaffected Republicans, church groups and Occupy protesters working side by side to make a beautiful place better for the most vulnerable residents. So pay attention, folks. Moral Monday isn’t going anywhere. It’s just growing in numbers and popularity. People here are generally mild-mannered and polite, but we’ll only be pushed so far. We know we’re standing in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, and we understand that everything is at stake. So pay attention, learn something and start numbering your days if you’re getting in the way.

Photo by Kristin Rawls.

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