This Monday we bring you a blog post from our Board Member, Cathy Howell. She lived and organized in North Carolina and has kept a close watch on their Moral Mondays lead by the North Carolina NAACP.
They are a model for us all to study – NC NAACP has kicked off Moral Mondays, weekly rallies outside of the capitol where hundreds have made the moral and ethical decision to get arrested standing against an all out war on the most basic of rights. Check out this video by Rev. William Barber II from Moral Monday last week where he addresses the verdict in the Trayvon Martin trial.
Scroll down for lessons from Moral Mondays, and one arrestee’s “Wake County Jailhouse Blues” testament to arrest.
ROP will continue to post updates on the incredible Moral Mondays in North Carolina on our Facebook page.
The Context of North Carolina
North Carolina was my home for most of the years between 1982 and 2009. Over those years I watched, and often participated, as a progressive movement grew – inching forward policies that made a real difference in the lives of working class and poor people in the state.
There were fits and starts and most wins took multiple attempts and several legislative sessions and sometimes a tragedy (like the 1991 chicken plant fire in Hamlet that killed 25 workers and injured 55 others).
We also lost some big ones – Jim Hunt, a moderate Democrat who was governor from 1977-85 and 1993-2001 ran against racist Republican Senator Jesse Helms in 1984 and lost. Then Harvey Gantt, the first African-American mayor of Charlotte ran against Helms in 1990 and 1996 and lost both times – despite high energy and a lot of hopefulness that we could get rid of Helms and elect an African-American candidate to the US Senate. The 1990 Gantt campaign had the most progressive energy focused on electoral politics that I had ever seen.
Inch by inch, some better laws passed: the Racial Justice Act, sales tax on food and medicine was removed, voting rights were expanded to include early voting and same day registration, public funding was provided for elections of judges, advances were made in environmental protection, Smart Start for pre-school children and later More at Four were launched, costs were contained for public university education, innovative small high schools were started that allow students to get college credits (the only way now for undocumented kids to get any higher education), and Medicaid eligibility was expanded.
Then, as a result of a high energy campaign, years of work by progressive groups, and an amazing turnout of African-American and young voters, North Carolina voted for Barack Obama by a small margin and the state turned blue in a presidential election for the first time since Jimmy Carter won in 1976. But then came 2010 and the white voter backlash against an African-American President and the disarray and scandals of the Democratic Party in North Carolina. This swept Republicans into office in the state legislature – and moved the Congressional Delegation to only 4 Democrats out of 13 total house members.
In 2012 the Republicans increased their margins, took over both houses of the legislature, and elected conservative Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory governor. This was the beginning of an all-out war on every policy mentioned above and many more. The Republicans are acting with a vengeance to gut every policy that brings racial equity and economic justice, benefits women and children, unemployed workers, or seniors.
But there is hope.
In 2007, the North Carolina NAACP, led by Reverend William Barber II, started HK on J (Historic Thousands on Jones Street) and annual march at the State Capitol in support of a broad 14 Point progressive program including the rights of workers to living wages and collective bargaining, the rights of immigrants, the right to public education, a clean environment, the redress of historic racial inequities, the abolishment of the death penalty, expansion of voting rights, and the end to the war in Iraq. Since these marches started, thousands of people and organizations have participated – and the agenda has expanded to include LGBTQ rights and reproductive freedom. These marches built commitment to a broad-based, multi-issue agenda and also built solidarity among constituencies and organizations. Each year the march included many organizations and individuals who felt included in the agenda and welcomed into the movement community.
The NC NAACP is, I dare to say, the most progressive state NAACP organization in the country. It has a skeleton staff, similar to the size of ROP, and a dynamic leader. NC is the 10th most populous state in the nation and approaches 10 million people. The Latino population doubled in the 10 years between 2000 and 2010. The state has 100 counties and it is at least an seven-hour drive from Wilmington in the east to Ashville in the west – and longer to get to the smaller communities east and west in the far corners of the state.
Over the past 11 weeks, every Monday, the residents of North Carolina, citizen or not, documents or not, have joined together at the state capitol in Raleigh to attempt to communicate with Governor McCrory and the leaders of the state legislature. Every week they have been refused an “audience” with these kings of NC– and every week the crowd has grown and more and more people have been arrested for civil disobedience – refusing to leave the rotunda of the State Capitol. As of today when I write this, over 800 people have been arrested and thousands and thousands have come to protest. The goal is not to change the minds of right-wing, ALEC connected legislators. The goal is to wake up the people of North Carolina and to win their hearts and minds. The goal is to build a movement that can take back the legislature and force it to serve the people of the state. The goal is to build a broad-based coalition of people who are and will continue to be allies to and for each other. And it’s beginning to work.
What lessons do I take from this story?
- Even when we think we are “winning” we can never let down our guard and coast. We can’t think, “OK, that’s over, I can go home and watch a movie.” Yes, we can rest sometimes but working for justice is a marathon and we have to see it that way.
- We must build community and alliances for the long haul. Welcoming communities! Connections with other organizations! And I mean community – not just coalitions. We need to know each other – really know each other. And we need to keep our eyes and ears open for when the next attack will come. We shouldn’t believe what is being said about our friends by our enemies – we need to question the information we see in the media.
- We must build alliances with a strategy to build our base – one that is rooted in a racial justice commitment that is deep and broad. Racism and the impacts of genocide, slavery, and forced labor are our continuing legacy and we must educate ourselves and speak up.
- We have to work on elections – even in the mid-terms, even when the candidates are less than perfect. We have a chance when they are less than perfect. We have no chance for decent legislation when they are declared enemies.
- When we win and we do have “progressive” elected officials like we do in Oregon, we still need to work it. They don’t magically do the right thing – especially when the other side is whispering or shouting in their ear every day. We need to be visible and vocal day in and day out – we need to inch justice forward every day.
Wake County Jailhouse Blues
Here is an excerpt from Wake County Detention Center Blues written by Katie Maxwell, a white North Carolinian social worker. The link to her full piece is at the end of this article and it is very worth reading. She is one of the people who chose to be arrested at Moral Monday 6.
June 10, 2013- a day like any other summer day in NC. Hot, humid, chance of thunderstorms….
Except on this day, I was making the moral and ethical decision to join other concerned NC citizens in the 6th wave of the “Moral Monday” protests at the NCGA and participate in an act of civil disobedience. ME! I was going to go and be *gasp* disobedient to police officers! They were going to tell me to get out and I was going to willingly REFUSE to abide by that order!!
Listen, my Mama taught me never to disobey police. No matter what they ask, the answer is always “yes, sir” – followed by quickly doing what they ask you to do. People that disobey police are bad guys….reckless, lawless no-good-very-bad people. Right?
Except, I’m none of those things. I’m a law abiding, responsible, good person! Not a saint, mind you….but I definitely try hard to live by that “do unto others” thing, ya know?
I was well aware of the fact that by choosing to do this, I would get handcuffed and hauled off in a prison bus to the Wake County Detention Center, and processed like a criminal. I’d seen 5 groups of citizens go before me, so I knew what was in store for me.
Treated like a criminal.
Simply for exercising my Constitutional rights.
The United States Constitution explicitly provides for ‘the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances'” in the First Amendment. The NC Constitution guarantee’s the same, by the by…
I know my rights.
So there I was. Ready to forever alter my clean record. ON PURPOSE!! And get a mug-shot!!
And forever be in a database somewhere in the NC legal system, waiting to be pulled up on a computer screen if I ever get pulled over for a speeding ticket.
And yes, OK, I’ll admit it. I wore a little extra eye makeup that day and even blew-dry my hair in anticipation of that picture.
Anyone who knows me well will not be surprised by this little tidbit…
But I digress…
” First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out
because I was not a communist……”
And, I’m really NOT a communist, by the way.
I know this comes as a surprise to many of my conservative friends, family members and fellow citizens who seem to operate under the gravely misguided assumption that anyone who advocates for social and economic justice and equality in the outspoken ways that I do, simply MUST be one of those commie socialist America-hating crazy hippie freaks that wants to destroy the Constitution and make everyone eat granola and sing “kum-ba-ya” in place of the National Anthem.
I mean, that’s what FOX news tells them, so it must be true, right?
I just don’t understand the CONSTITUTION, one of them said.
Yeah, clearly it’s just too difficult for this social worker with a Master’s Degree to understand, eh??
Or this one. Here’s a good one. I’m a “libtard”. Clearly, I just don’t “understand” that in tough times, tough decision must be made, budgets must be cut and that’s just the way the cookie crumbles..
Yep, one of those folks actually called me a “libtard” to my face one time.
Here is what I am:
I’m a white, middle class woman, living in the burbs. The daughter of a Doctor and a home-maker who was raised, for most of my life, in Chapel Hill, NC.
I knew my privilege at a young age, and was raised by progressive parents who taught me to value others, to never think I was better than anyone else simply because of the privilege I was born into. I was never to think, for one minute, that the color of my skin, or the size of my bank account (or my Daddy’s bank account) made me special, or more important than anyone else.
Because it didn’t make me special. And it still doesn’t…
It made me fortunate. And still does.
I’m lucky. Pure and simple.
And, as one of my favorite authors, Jen Hatmaker says ” I won’t defile my blessings by imagining that I deserve them”.
We were regular folk. NOT bused in from other states, as one of our esteemed lawmakers accused us of being. Not “professional agitators”, as he called us ( I AM an agitator, but I’m no professional at it, lemme tell ya….) Nope, just North Carolina residents- doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, social workers, business owners, disabled veterans, clergy, and even trade unionists- who had grown so gravely concerned about the horrifically regressive and harmful policies and laws being passed in our state, that we were willing to participate in an act of civil disobedience and imminent arrest to get our point across…to attempt to get our concerns heard.
What are those concerns?
Well, I could list the individual bills being passed or considered by this group of legislators- you know, the gutting of public school funds in order to fill the pockets of private companies; increasing class sizes in already overcrowded and under-resourced classrooms; slashing pre-k eligibility ; lowering taxes on the rich and raising sales taxes and taxing previously untaxed services to make up for that loss of revenue, with these new taxes disproportionately affecting the poor ; taking medicaid away from poor pregnant women (so much for that whole “sanctity of life” thing, eh??) ; denying medicaid expansion for half a million folks in NC even though it wouldn’t have cost the state one dime for the first 3 years; dismantling early voting; gutting mental health and DD funds so that the chronically disabled and mentally ill have nowhere to go ( except for jail)……
I mean, the list goes on and on and you all reading this know all of that already.
So, what was our point? Why were we doing this??? Why was I doing this??
Because it’s the right thing to do, that’s why.
I did this because I will not be one of those people who stays silent while my poor and marginalized fellow North Carolinians get economically and socially SUFFOCATED by these immoral legislators.
I will speak out because one day, it could be me….
In fact, at one point, IT WAS ME…
And if that day comes to me again, I don’t want to look around and wonder why my fellow brothers and sisters abandoned me in my time of need.
I will never ever ever ever EVER be one of those “appallingly silent” good people….
To read Katy’s full article go to: Wake County Detention Center Blues…
NC NAACP – http://www.naacpnc.org/ and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/North-Carolina-NAACP/153909614646324