North Carolina’s Moral Monday Movement Kicks Off 2014 With a Massive Rally in Raleigh

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This post first appeared at The Nation.

The stage at the inaugural 2014 Moral Mondays protest in Raleigh, North Carolina. Photo by Ari Berman.
The stage at the inaugural 2014 Moral Mondays protest in Raleigh, North Carolina. Photo by Ari Berman.

On February 1, 1960, four black students at North Carolina A&T kicked off the 1960s civil rights movement by trying to eat at a segregated lunch counter at Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro. Two months later, young activists founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at Shaw University in Raleigh, which would transform the South through sit-ins, Freedom Rides and voter registration drives.

So it was fitting that North Carolina’s Moral Monday movement held a massive “Moral March” in Raleigh today which began at Shaw University, exactly 54 years after North Carolina’s trailblazing role in the civil rights movement. Tens of thousands of activists — from all backgrounds, races and causes — marched from Shaw to the North Carolina State Capitol, where they held an exuberant rally protesting the right-wing policies of the North Carolina government and commemorating the eighth anniversary of the HKonJ coalition (the acronym stands for Historic Thousands on Jones Street, where the NC legislature sits).

The day began cold and cloudy, a fitting metaphor for politics in North Carolina last year. Since taking over the legislature in 2010 and the governor’s mansion in 2012, controlling 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 kids while shifting $90 million from public education to voucher schools; slashed taxes for the top five percent while raising taxes on the bottom 95 percent; 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 law, which mandates strict voter ID, cuts early voting and eliminates same-day registration, among other things.

The fierce reaction against these policies led to the Moral Monday movement, when nearly 1,000 activists were arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience inside the North Carolina General Assembly. Rallies were held in more than 30 cities across the state and the approval ratings of North Carolina Republicans fell into the toilet. Sample signs at Saturday’s rally: “OMG, GOP, WTF. It’s 2014, not 1954!!!” “Welcome to North Carolina. Turn Your Watch Back 50 Years!” (See my Twitter feed for photos of the rally.)

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.”

If today’s rally was any indication, the Moral Monday movement will be bigger and broader in 2014. An estimated 15,000 activists attended the HKonJ rally last year, bringing 30 buses; this year, the NC NAACP estimated that 80,000 to 100,000 people rallied in Raleigh, with 100 buses converging from all over the state and country. It was the largest civil rights rally in the South since tens of thousands of voting rights activists marched from Selma to Montgomery in support of the Voting Rights Act.

“This Moral March inaugurates a fresh year of grassroots empowerment, voter education, litigation and non-violent direct action,” Barber said. There will be a new wave of direct action protests when the North Carolina legislature returns in the spring, a new wave of activists doing voter mobilization and registration during the “Freedom Summer 2014,” and litigationchallenging North Carolina’s voter suppression bill. The movement will be active in the streets, in the courtroom and at the ballot box. They will be focused not just on changing minds, but on changing outcomes.

To that end, the HKonJ coalition called for 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.

Barber has frequently called North Carolina “a state fight with national implications,” and that message has started to break through nationally. Moral Monday spinoffs have begun in Georgia and South Carolina, and national progressive leaders like Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers traveled to Raleigh to lend their support today. “This is a movement, not a moment” is a frequent refrain among Moral Monday activists. “This was just the beginning,” Barber said after the rally. “We did not come all this way just to go home.” Barber just wrapped up a 16-city tour of the state last week. He’ll hit the road again next week.

By the end of the rally, the sun had finally come out. “Even the universe is blessing us,” Barber said.

Ari Berman is a contributing writer for The Nation magazine and an Investigative Journalism Fellow at The Nation Institute. His first book, Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, was published in October 2010 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. He is now working on a history of voting rights since 1965. Tweet him @AriBerman.
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  • Elaine F.

    I’m proud to be a part of this movement in Raleigh.

  • Anonymous

    When the last “Take back America” movement began, somehow we ended up completely off tract with the Tea Party. Do not let this movement be derailed!

  • luzzjl524

    My Uncle Caleb just got red Ford Focus ST
    by working off of a computer. try this J­u­m­p­9­9­9­.­ℂ­o­m

  • Elaine F.

    Thanks — I’m calling myself an accidental activist. The list of things wrong in NC is long — 9 separate issues, most revolving around policies that slight the most economically disadvantaged. One rally this Summer was focused around NC teacher pay — 47th in the nation and governor McCory had just passed a teacher salary pay freeze for 2013-2014. That was the final push to get me out to protest, and I haven’t left the movement since. I looked in the back seat of my car Saturday and saw 4 protest signs. I thought to myself “My gosh how did this happen?”

  • Text_unknown

    Not much unlike a Klan Rally, but with better press.

  • Frank Luke

    The Republicans can legislate to deny the 98% of Americans living wages and an equal shot at the American Dream but it’s not going to stop determined pushback from workers. Right on, N Carolina demonstrators !!

  • Anonymous

    In solidarity from CA – wish I was there-

  • Anonymous

    Great reporting, even better than Thom Hartmann’s.

  • Anonymous

    Except that it was a love fest vs. a hate fest.

  • Anonymous

    Yup, it was organized by the NAACP, no secret there, but the largest volume of marchers that I saw over the course of the day had signs for issues that are well beyond the scope of the NAACP.
    Looking at NC’s new voter ID laws, they are stratified to ensure that a certain number of people drop out at every turn. College kids have to go home to vote, can’t early vote, can’t register on the same day, can’t use baptism documents as proof of residency (many older NCer’s don’t have state birth certificates.) Add to that, fewer polls in minority areas than in white areas and you begin to add hurdles to large sections of the population – this isn’t what democracy looks like.

  • Bebe Smith

    I was there, and the mood was joyful!

  • Bebe Smith

    Sure seemed grassroots to me. And voter ID laws, and the other restrictions in NC, do hinder access to voting — by the disabled, the elderly and the poor.

  • Anonymous

    Uh huh. Right.

  • Anonymous

    Lower taxes and smaller government. That’s wrong? The only thing wrong is in your head.

  • Benjamín Joel Fleet

    You know this is a liberal gathering, right? The Klan are self-proclaimed far-right conservatives.

  • Sarah

    Because there is no way the media would dare cover this. It might inspire other Americans to rise up against the injustice in this country, the politicians voting for it, and the corporate overlords that actually write the legislation. No way would you see coverage of this in the mainstream, just like you didn’t see coverage of what actually was going on at Occupy Wall Street unless you were following independent journalists like Tim Pool.

  • Anonymous

    When the reasonable & sane don’t get out & vote, the insane win elections…

  • Leo Frost

    Add gerrymandering to the list of messed up things the GOP does to try and win. Look at the district maps for ohio. One district is literally split into two sections that are divided by 50miles… How is that representative of the population. They were designed to reduce the impact of the majority blue in the state against the minority red(its a red state according to the last election because of gerrymandering. Oh and voter fraud lol if you look up the stats is mainly committed by the extreme right… Its a little ironic

  • Leo Frost

    I think Pegasus was trying to say that the movement to remove these voter id laws should not be derailed and last time we had a push like this we ended up with the tea party

  • Tony Budz

    It’s not bizarre, it’s our corrupt government.. :(

  • Leonard Rusciani Jr

    Wow, you would think the impoverished rallying for “Moral Monday” would rally to address the REAL problems…destroyed families, gangs, drugs, violence etc. instead of petitioning the government to abet such behavior.

  • Edward Moriarty

    Still, no coverage in major news media about this Moral Monday March. The powers that be must be scared that if publicized it will multiply, therefore the need to stifle the story. We are all Edith Bunker to those Archies.Tea Party rallies of 30-40 people attracted reporters from all major networks, newspapers and wire services during the last two election cycles. Reportedly 80,000 people march in Raleigh for Moral March, and it is ignored. Yesterday’s Snowstorm and traffic tie ups in Raleigh received National coverage……….None for the Moral March. News media of TV, Print and wire services may call themselves reporters but they have become “selective reporters” and are no longer professional journalists. HACKS! Bill Moyers and a few others not included.
    A NATION THAT HAS LOST IT’S FREE PRESS, HAS LOST IT’S FREEDOM!

  • Richard Brewer

    I found it interesting that marchers were told to bring their ID…SMH

  • Mike

    yep me too, how hypocritical can they be.

  • Jay

    Mike, I was there. There were WAY more than 2000. The Fayetteville Street Mall is about 6 blocks long, and there was difficulty in getting everyone in. There are pictures available on both the WRAL and the Raleigh N&O websites. See for yourself. There are many different issues that people are frustrated with. Not everyone was there for the same reasons, but everyone knew why THEY were there.

  • Richard Brewer
  • Julie VanDyke

    Amazing!

  • Polly Liberale

    Leonard, enough with the propaganda and (what I’m sure you will deny) blatant racism. What the current NC government is doing against the majority of their people is wrong. This isn’t an argument, it is a fact. As the saying goes, “You are entitled to your own opinions, not your own facts.” Unfortunately for you, Leonard, your opinions are a dying breed.

  • Leonard Rusciani Jr

    Prop[aganda? Like doublespeak? Let’s start with “Federal Unemployment Benefits” this is not “Unemployment Benefits” that employees and employers pay into (usually 3-6 months of INSURANCE benefits). Federal extensions are WELFARE! Give aways. These were not earned benefits from work.
    Preschool? Well studies show that any scholastic benefit from preK programs disappears after third grade. It is essentially free daycare.
    What is not propaganda is that the main driver of economic success of a family, regardless of race, income level or school system is an intact two parent home. This is a sociologic fact. When you turn to government for solutions, you enslave yourself to an entity that can surely give and take it away as you seem to protest. Justice i9s keeping what you earn, not what is given to you.

  • Echo Moon

    well we can immediately see what side you are on and rooting for!

  • Edward Moriarty

    We all have a voter registration card, it just does not include picture, but includes your name address, voter registration #, date of birth, original registration date, voting districts in which we participate, and party affiliation and precinct number.

  • John Varner

    “Papers (not paper’s) do things like that….” (Glad to help!)

  • Anonymous

    I have been to many protests to find that even the so called “Liberal Media” under reports numbers-that is if they show up at all