Sunday, February 9, 2014

"North Carolina is ground zero" (updated w/ video of #MoralMarch)

The national media has collectively decided that the next wave of a liberal movement for Democrats will come in the form of populism fueled by income inequality. Occupy Wall Streeters take the credit for igniting this movement while liberal bloggers promote politicians like Sen. Elizabeth Warren as its leaders.

Meanwhile, only a few are paying attention to the actual movement underway in North Carolina...the one being led by Rev. Dr. William Barber and the NC NAACP called "Moral Mondays." Yesterday that movement drew 80,000 to 100,000 for the Moral March in Raleigh, North Carolina. Ari Berman is one of those few journalists who is paying attention.
The Moral Monday protests transformed North Carolina politics in 2013, building a multiracial, multi-issue movement centered around social justice such as the South hadn’t seen since the 1960s. “We have come to say to the extremists, who ignore the common good and have chosen the low road, your actions have worked in reverse,” said Reverend William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP and the leader of the Moral Monday movement, in his boisterous keynote speech. “You may have thought you were going to discourage us, but instead you have encouraged us. The more you push us back, the more we will fight to go forward. The more you try to oppress us, the more you will inspire us.”
I am personally struck by how well Rev. Barber learned the lessons taught to us by movement leaders like Martin Luther King. He is building a coalition of citizens who are committed to clear principles that speak to the very real concerns of the people. Here are their five demands:
  • Secure pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that insure economic sustainability;
  • Provide well-funded, quality public education for all;
  • Stand up for the health of every North Carolinian by promoting health care access and environmental justice across all the state's communities;
  • Address the continuing inequalities in the criminal justice system and ensure equality under the law for every person, regardless of race, class, creed, documentation or sexual preference;
  • Protect and expand voting rights for people of color, women, immigrants, the elderly and students to safeguard fair democratic representation.
Notice that there's no railing against the 1%ers in that platform. They are not this movement's concern. The focus is on justice and equality for the rest of us. Added to a national call for immigration reform, these are the policies that have attracted a diverse coalition that covers the gamut of race, creed, gender and sexual orientation...exactly the kind of coalition that will be needed to secure victories in the future. 

But right now Rev. Barber is focusing all his energy on changing things in the relatively small swing state of North Carolina. That reminds me of what Pete Seeger once said that he learned from Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
When you face an opponent over a broad front, you don't aim at the opponent's strong points. You aim for something a little off to the side. But you win it. And having won that bus boycott...13 months it took him to do it...then he moved on to other things.
Rev. Barber has been at this in North Carolina for 10 months now. And as we speak, Moral Monday movements are being planned in places like Georgia and Alabama. As the Reverend says, "We know we're in the South - the crucible of change - where hope has always had to be chiseled from the stone of despair. We understand that North Carolina is ground zero and the nation is looking at us."

The other lesson Rev. Barber learned well is that successful movements are built on hope, not cynicism.
So we're not confused, we're not schizophrenic, we are quite clear, we're clothed in our right minds, WE KNOW WHO WE ARE, we believe we've been born for this moment. Anybody that thought difficulties would depress us better look again. Resurrection always wins. Justice always wins. Love always wins. Courage always wins.
As we've learned, cynicism is the refuge of the privileged while hope is often the only thing available to the oppressed.
For someone sitting on the very edge of survival, hope is extremely important. Often it is only hope, sometimes even false hope, that allows him to make it to the next day... Cynicism is deadly for someone on the edge of survival. Even in the darkest night, he cannot afford to be cynical. That cynicism just might push him over the edge.
If you're in need of an infusion of hope, I suggest you go to Rev. Barber's youtube channel and listen to more of what he has to say. Here's one of my favorites.

And so I expect that when the history books are written, it will be movements like the one being built in North Carolina that will actually "bend the arc of history towards justice." That's why I'm going to be keeping my eye on this one.

P.S. My friend Denise Oliver-Velez was in Raleigh yesterday for the Moral March. She promises pictures that I'll share here when I get them :-)

UPDATE: Here's video of the Moral March with Rev. Barber calling us all to "higher ground."

An excerpt:
You don't have enough political power to vote us away. You don't have enough insults to taunt us away. And you don't have enough money to buy us away.

We will not give up, NOT NOW, NOT EVER.

We will never abdicate our birth right and sell it for a bowl of porridge.


  1. As one immersed in social justice advocacy for a large progressive faith organization, I have taken serious note of Moral Mondays and Rev. Barber. I have allies in NC who keep us updated, and on the West coast, we are beginning to build similar movements in a different way - using those alliances to create structures for developing employee owned businesses. We are actually no less under the gun in CA - it's just far less obvious since there is no overt assault on voting rights or reproductive rights. We do have a war on the poor from our own governor who has seen his political advantage lying in placating the more affluent, developing (bad) large capital expenditure projects, and pretending to be a fiscal conservative which is accomplished by gutting programs for the poor. We won't use the same tactics, but we WILL use the same alliances to offer different options to those on welfare, immigrants, dislocated blue collar people, single mothers struggling with low wage jobs, unions, the faith community, students - whoever it takes. We draw huge inspiration from North Carolina, the Moral Mondays energy, and the focus on justice for all. We cannot thank them enough for their courage and leadership as they confront the feudalistic goals of rabid corporatism both private sector and public. Communities working together is the ONLY answer.

  2. Thank you, Nancy for posting this video.

  3. Exhausted and exhilarated by the March - it was a long trip down to NC from NYC.

    Thanks for writing this! FYI Moral Mondays are now in New york too.

    1. I'm exhilarated just hearing about it! Hope you get to rest up soon.

      I posted some of Resa's pics up above with a link to her flickr page. What an amazing collection of faces!