This chant repeated again and again by tens of thousands in Raleigh on February 8, 2014, energized and inspired all who rallied and marched up Fayetteville Street toward the North Carolina capitol. We were young and old, black, brown and white, gay and straight, men, women, and children steadfast in our belief in justice and equality and committed to peaceful, non-violent action. We were members of unions, churches, mosques, and synagogues, civil rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, and environmental organizations. We came from all walks of life and all political persuasions, all participating in the Moral Monday March and Rally to restore voting rights, women’s reproductive health rights, marriage equality, worker and environmental protections.
We were marching against repressive legislation that has robbed us of necessary rights and protections that we have come to expect as basic human rights, and hope to expand. Signs displayed messages such as “Stop the War on Women,” “Healthcare is a Human Right,” “Welcome to North Carolina. Turn Your Watch Back 50 Years.” This was not the first Moral Monday march nor will it be the last. But it was the largest so far in this growing movement that has spread beyond the borders of North Carolina. It was also the largest march for civil rights and voting rights since the 1965 march in Selma, Alabama. More than 80,000 strong we marched to say, “We are united and together we are powerful.”
The march and rally was both to protest the right-wing policies of the North Carolina government and to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the HKonJ (Historic Thousands on Jones Street, where the NC legislature sits) coalition. Since taking over the legislature in 2010 and the governorship in 2012, controlling the state government for the first time in over a century, North Carolina Republicans eliminated the earned-income tax credit for 900,000 North Carolinians; refused Medicaid coverage for 500,000; ended federal unemployment benefits for 170,000; cut pre-K for 30,000 children while shifting $90 million from public education to voucher schools; slashed taxes for the top 5% while raising taxes on the bottom 95%; axed public financing of judicial races; prohibited death row inmates from challenging racially discriminatory verdicts; passed one of the country’s most Draconian anti-choice laws; and enacted the country’s worst voter suppression laws, which mandates strict voter ID, cuts early voting and eliminates same-day registration, among other things.
The Forward Together Moral Movement has put together a long-term strategy which includes litigation to challenge the voter suppression bill, voter registration, outreach, non-violent direct action, and a watchdog group, which ensures that any legislation put forth in the state has the interest of the people at heart. “Freedom Summer 2014” is also planned to energize the youth vote. Five demands have been put forth by the coalition:
- 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.
Members of the Labor Fightback Network were participants in the day’s activities along with the Southern Workers’ Assembly, Black Workers for Justice, South Carolina AFL-CIO, Savannah Central Labor Council, Raise Up, UE Local 150, Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), NJ State Industrial Union Council, SEIU, and numerous other unions and community groups. The Southern Workers Assembly’s call to join the Moral Monday March and Rally included: Union Rights highlighting the right to Collective Bargaining; Living Wages for all Workers; Protect Voting Rights; Stop Attack on Unemployment Coverage; Expand Medicaid; Fully Fund all Public Services; End Systematic Racism, Sexism and Homophobia; and more.
The Southern Workers Assembly meeting held after the march emphasized grassroots empowerment and included a panel of workers from FLOC, UE Local 150, Raise Up fast food workers, and a teaching assistant. They discussed their campaigns for higher wages, health and safety, environmental justice, and a workers’ bill of rights at the state and municipal level. In the discussion following the panel others brought up the importance of independent politics, the need to repeal Taft-Hartley, and the recent resolution to Organize the South passed unanimously at the national AFL-CIO convention in September of last year, with slight modifications.
That resolution was approved by members of the Savannah Regional Central Labor Council based on a resolution drafted by a committee chaired by Brett Hulme, President of the Council, and supported by Black Workers for Justice, Southern Workers Assembly and many other groups. This followed the Labor Fightback Network’s founding conference held in NJ last year in which the need to pour resources into organizing the South was the subject of speeches and workshops. Those present were encouraged to support the petition for those arrested and facing charges in the Moral Monday actions. These charges must be dropped. Click here to sign the petition to Stop the Criminalization of the Right to Protest.
It is important to note that in North Carolina, and in many other states, the roots of this wave of repressive legislation can be traced to ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, known by many as the author of the infamous “Stand Your Ground” laws. ALEC was founded in 1973 as a clearinghouse to promote legislation at the state level and has since developed into a highly prominent corporate funded lobbying vehicle for advancing corporate interests, despite the fact that it is a tax deductible 501 (c) (3) public charity that has never reported any lobbying expenditures to the IRS.
ALEC develops model legislation which it promotes to state legislators at posh resorts throughout the U.S. A 2009 ALEC model is behind restrictive “Voter ID” legislation which limits the democratic influence of average Americans by disenfranchising disabled, low-income, elderly, people of color, and student voters. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the Voter ID Act may have disenfranchised 5 million Americans during the 2012 elections, even though voter fraud is a virtually non-existent problem. “ALEC and its sponsors have an enduring mission to pass voter suppression laws that would impose barriers on direct democracy” veteran journalist John Nichols wrote in The Nation. At least ten Stand Your Ground laws were introduced in 2013 and two passed. Fifty two bills were introduced to enact or tighten Voter ID restrictions of which five passed. So much more could be said about ALEC’s destructive agenda to undermine rights of workers and unions, reduce and/or deny medical benefits, enact Stand Your Ground laws, etc. To get more information, go to http://www.ALECExposed.org, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy.
North Carolina‘s Moral Monday Coalition gives us a blueprint to be followed and duplicated as widely as possible. Its strength is in its diversity and its broad appeal to social and economic justice. On the heels of the devastating UAW loss at the Chattanooga VW plant, it is evident that labor/community coalitions are needed more than ever. As we saw in the UAW election, right-wing anti-union money was funneled through local residents for opposition messages on billboards and other anti-union publicity. Perhaps a strong, united labor/community coalition voice could have countered the third-party political threats and intimidation factor more effectively. The broadest possible coalitions are needed to mount the necessary push-back against such right-wing attacks whether such assaults are targeted at labor, people of color, voters, women, students, seniors, immigrants, or the environment.
According to Saladin Muhammad from Black Workers for Justice and the Southern Workers Assembly, Moral Mondays have mobilized thousands and undercut the claim to moral high ground of the religious right, whose so-called moral agenda is racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and divisive, and tries to appeal mainly to the white working class. In contrast, the Forward Together Moral Movement seeks to unify, not divide. Rev. William Barber, President of the North Carolina NAACP, calls it an agenda-based coalition: anti-racism, anti-poverty, pro-justice. At the Feb 8 rally he said, “We must see ourselves as existing in society not as isolated selves but as part of the whole.” And at the conclusion of the exuberant rally after a gray, cloudy morning, the sun burst forth affirming the hopeful, positive, forward thinking, and high spirited atmosphere of the event.