In the short time Pat McCrory has been governor of North Carolina, the GOP has forced through bills aimed at restricting women's access to abortions, cutting unemployment benefits, slashing education budgets, refusing federal Medicaid funds, raising taxes on the poor to cut taxes for the rich, controversial voting legislation that requires voters paying money to obtain a voter ID (which would disenfranchise 300,000 registered North Carolina voters), repealing child tax credits for parents whose children in college register to vote, and a bill that allows guns to be carried on playgrounds and college campuses. Even though these are largely Republican efforts, one of Moral Monday's leading organizers is quick to point out that this isn't a partisan fight.
"It isn't about Republicans or Democrats, it's about extremists attacking Democracy," said Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP. "Their plan is to pass these immoral laws and then make it difficult for people to vote them out in the next election cycle."
North Carolinians say the Moral Monday protesters are now more popular than the state legislature. North Carolina's Moral Mondays could pave a new way for the South to become progressive again.
1. Take the Moral Upper Hand
The movement Barber and others organized in North Carolina is rooted in Jesus' words about how it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. In Matthew 25:31, Jesus said those who neglect to care for "the least of these," also neglect Him. Luke 3:11 quotes John, who says someone who has two coats should give one to someone who has none, and those with extra food should do the same for the hungry.
"A lot of liberals tend to run away from the Bible and the flag," Barber said. "But we need to take those things back, and not let people who hurt others through the politics of greed to claim what was never theirs in the first place."
2. Target State Capitols
In 2010, several ultra-conservative governors were elected in traditionally purple states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, and Michigan, among other states. Almost like clockwork, these governors, assisted by GOP majorities in their respective states, started enacting similar agendas. Taxes for the rich and corporations are cut, creating big budget gaps, providing those governors and legislatures with an excuse to slash budgets for government programs that the poor and underserved depend upon.
McCrory and the North Carolina GOP are simply taking advantage of their numbers to enact a similar agenda aimed at disenfranchising certain groups of people by not only slashing the programs meant to help them, but by making it more difficult for those groups of people to vote them out of office. The sooner we realize this is a nationally-coordinated agenda that depends on state governments to do the scut work, the sooner we can organize to take back our state governments.
3. Be Intersectional
"Somebody say, 'I cannot change things. Only WE can change things.' We are the WE that we've been waiting for."
- Rev. William Barber
On July 22nd, I met leaders from several faiths at Halifax Mall. There was a group of LGBT activists holding up rainbow flags. There were Latinos, Asian-Americans, and Middle Easterners standing alongside their fellow black and white protesters. I met a teenager who was upset her mom wouldn't let her join those who had committed to civil disobedience, and a 78-year-old woman who happily volunteered herself to be handcuffed and hauled off to jail while standing up for her rights.
Intersectionality is also a key part of having as many available assets as possible to help win your fight. Because so many groups are so deeply invested in the fight in North Carolina, all the bases were covered. The Christian Faith Baptist Church provided the space for the meetings before and after the action. During the large rally at Halifax Mall, there was a DJ playing music between speakers and a medical tent staffed with doctors providing free care to anyone who needed it. The NAACP provided the buses for people to go to and from the church. Volunteers waited outside the Wake County Jail to support those leaving, and offered the freed jailbirds rides back to the church. The Advancement Project provides plenty of attorneys ready to take on pro bono cases for the approximately 1,000 protesters who have been arrested over 12 Moral Mondays. None of these necessary logistics would be possible without an all-inclusive environment.
4. Use Music and Creativity
Singing and music are common languages that bring all sorts of people together from all ages and backgrounds. And when everyone is joining their voices together as one, it adds an entirely new element of power that would have been absent otherwise. I recently wrote an article about the power of revolutionary music to stir revolutionary movements, which began with a James Connolly quote about how a revolution without musical expression is "the dogma of the few and not the faith of the multitude."
Protesters' creativity also shone at Halifax Mall, where people passed out humorous fans made to look like Gov. Pat McCrory's head. Another group had a table advertising a new Tumblr page, "Our North Carolina," in the vein of the "We Are the 99 Percent" Tumblr that launched Occupy Wall Street's rallying cries into the mainstream conversation. At the table, participants filled out a sheet of paper that says "My North Carolina" at the top, and allows the rest of the blank sheet to be filled in by the participant. Photos of these are then shared on social media to amplify the voice of the movement.
5. Use Bottom-Up Organizing
The bottom-up approach was key to Occupy Wall Street's success in spreading its message to every American city. Even though the first OWS encampment was in New York City, it was made very clear that each community was just as empowered to take the Occupy name, apply it to their town, and make the movement their own.
Rev. Barber insists that to be successful, the movement must remain a grassroots coalition of multiple groups, and not become an organization in and of itself.
"We want to build a movement, not argue over who's going to be president and who's going to be treasurer and all this," Rev. Barber says. "That's the difference between movements and organizations."
6. Go to Jail for Justice
In just 12 weeks, nearly 1,000 North Carolinians have been arrested at Moral Monday protests, making it the single largest act of civil disobedience since the Occupy Wall Street movement. At Moral Monday, they don't refer to it as getting arrested, but as "bearing witness." I decided that if I was going to make the drive to North Carolina to write about Moral Mondays, the story would be incomplete unless I personally went to jail with other "witnesses."
"In my tradition of faith, when one stands up to issues and injustice, one is willing to submit to anything, including crucifixion," Rev. Barber says. "You do it because you believe it is right and your crucifixion will be vindicated."
On July 22nd, 73 of us were "witnesses" at the state capitol. First, the entire crowd gathered in the rotunda, led chants, gave speeches, and sang songs at the doors of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Chief Weaver of the General Assembly Police announced that the capitol was closed, and that protesters had 5 minutes to leave or face arrest. Those with green armbands were bound with plastic cuffs, processed, and hauled off to Wake County Jail in white buses with mesh windows.
Tanya Glover of Lillington, N.C., a blogger for modvive.com, which covers the Moral Monday protests, was arrested with her father, Harvey Smith, at the North Carolina statehouse on July 8th. She said her family all volunteered themselves to "bear witness" the following week.
"A lot of them didn't really get what was going on until they saw us being arrested, then when they understood what was really at stake, they had to get arrested too," Glover said.
7. Lead With Love
Love and support are also key roles to play for the crowd, from when "witnesses" first marched toward the capitol to when we got out. Before the arrests, a minister offered a prayer for the group's safety, and the crowd divided to make one aisle in the middle where all of the "witnesses" would walk toward the capitol. People on either side of us were saying thank you, clapping, giving us high fives, hugs, and fist-bumps. Several spontaneously joined us from the sidelines and volunteered to be arrested with the group. I was blown away by the thousands of people all erupting into cheers and chanting "Thank you! We love you!" while we walked from the basement of the state capitol to the prison buses.
When I was released close to midnight, there were still roughly 20 people waiting outside the Wake County jail who applauded when I walked out the front doors with my court papers. State senator Earline Parmon (Democrat of Winston-Salem) was the first to give me a hug after I was released. There were Advancement Project attorneys present, along with a notary public, to sign and notarize my court appearance waiver, (hopefully) making it so my attorney could appear on my behalf when my court date arrived. The atmosphere of love that constantly surrounds the Forward Together movement makes it easy to sympathize with them, and difficult to dislike them. They'll likely win over North Carolina's apolitical class simply with their love.
8. Register New Voters, Support Independent Candidates, and Get Out the Vote
While I was preparing for arrest, my host in Raleigh, Mike Cockrell, surveyed of 54 people at Halifax Mall from 15 different counties in North Carolina. He asked them five short questions with an option of yes/no/not sure:
• Do you vote?
• Have you voted for a Republican at any point in your life?
• Did you vote for a Republican in the last election?
• Are you likely to vote for a Republican in the next election?
• Would you consider voting for a third party candidate if they were on the ballot?
All but one of the 54 surveyed said they were voters. 43.4% had voted for a Republican at least once. 18.9% of respondents voted for a Republican in 2012. 9.4% of participants said they would consider voting for a Republican. And a whopping 81.1% of respondents said they would consider voting for a third party candidate.
"I am a registered independent. If there was a leftist third party, I would love to have that," Harvey Smith said. "I'm really into breaking out of this two-party mold."
The only way to ensure the current crop of lawmakers doesn't maintain their power is to vote them out at every opportunity. The Moral Monday protests could be a great engine not just for registering new voters, but for cultivating strong community leaders to run for local office.
9. Have an Agenda-Driven Movement
Moral Mondays have a specific focus for each week. On July 22nd, the theme of the week was voting rights. Other themes have focused on a woman's right to have access to contraception and abortions, and others protested the raising of taxes on the poor to cut taxes for the rich. Rev. Barber cited the Constitution when addressing the legislature's attempts to pare back unemployment benefits.
"North Carolinians have a right to the fruits of their labor in their Constitution," Rev. Barber said. "You can't deny someone unemployment benefits after they've spent years paying into it. That's directly denying someone the fruits of their labor."
As Harvey Smith said, the Moral Mondays of North Carolina can only be done in North Carolina. But a similar model can be very successful in many other states. We can take back our government before we know it if we organize this new civil rights movement with a strong agenda.
"This one's for North Carolina, come on and raise up!"
- Petey Pablo