When I first heard the phrase “Moral Monday” on Twitter (#MoralMonday), I assumed it was a social media phenomenon like Throwback Thursday (#tbt), Friday Follow (#ff), or Caturday (#caturday). Instead, this catchy phrase has a much deeper and just purpose. It is a revival of 1960s Civil Rights Era activism and the old-school-style protests that took place in the South. This movement is pushing back on conservative policy changes that began in North Carolina in the early 2010’s that directly harm many already marginalized communities in the state.
The first large activism around Moral Monday occurred in April 2013 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Organized by Reverend William Barber II, a local pastor and president of the North Carolina NAACP, the inaugural Moral Monday protested recent voting laws that required government-issued identification, decreased days for early voting, and eliminated same-day registration. This kind of voter suppression laws have been shown to affect Black people. In addition, these voter suppression acts were just one more set-back along a long list of legislative injustices by Republican-controlled state legislature and the NC governor’s mansion.
Enough was enough. Barber gathered activists and religious leaders and headed to the state legislative building to peacefully protest through song, reading from the Bible, and blocking the doors. This action resonated with North Carolinians and each Monday, more people gathered and joined the Moral Monday movement. Dozens grew to hundreds and then thousands. People were so committed that approximately 945 people were charged with trespassing and other misdemeanors while protesting.
The movement continued to gain momentum as North Carolinians raised their voices against the litany of legislation they believed to be morally reprehensible for themselves and neighbors. The Nation reported a long list of unjust legislation that passed, “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 kids while shifting $90 million from public education to voucher schools; slashed taxes for the top 5 percent while raising taxes on the bottom 95 percent; axed public financing of judicial races; prohibited death row inmates from challenging racially discriminatory verdicts.” Many of these issues cross various socioeconomic and racial lines.
On February 8, 2014 a “Moral March” was held in Raleigh. It was the capstone to nearly a year of grassroots activism. An estimated 80,000 people marched from Shaw University to the North Carolina State Capital to voice their opposition of the Republican policies.
According to a press release by the North Carolina NAACP, the “five fundamental demands” are:
1. Secure pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that insure economic sustainability;
2. Provide well-funded, quality public education for all;
3. Stand up for the health of every North Carolinian by promoting health care access and environmental justice across all the state’s communities;
4. 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;
5. Protect and expand voting rights for people of color, women, immigrants, the elderly and students to safeguard fair democratic representation.
These demands are a clear reflection of what the North Carolina NAACP lead by Barber, believes to be the morally reprehensible issues directly hurting the people of his state. Mother Jones’s article, Meet the Preacher Behind Moral Mondays, quotes Barber speaking at a rally: “This is a fight for the future and soul of our state. It doesn’t matter what the critics call us…They can deride us, they can try to deflect from the issue. And we understand that, because they can’t debate us on the issue. They can’t make their case on moral and constitutional grounds.” The same article notes that this passion has helped spark similar protests in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama.
Whether in social media or at a rally, the refrain, “Forward Together,” is repeated by Moral Monday supporters no matter what their color or religion. These simple two words exemplify the spirit of inclusion that is a key strength to Moral Mondays. Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
By Kelly Titus
M.S. Candidate in Change Management at the New School for Public Engagement