Moving forward together in North Carolina

February 12, 2014

Hayley Archer and Alex Buckingham report from North Carolina on the Moral Movement that is standing up to the right wing’s political assault.

SOME 100,000 demonstrators converged on Raleigh, N.C., on February 8, in the largest protest in the South since the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march at the height of the civil rights movement.

The marchers were taking a stand against North Carolina Republicans and their right-wing agenda. And they were taking that stand together.

Republicans control the state Senate, House and the governor's mansion, and they've pushed through an unceasing series of attacks on North Carolinians: harsh restrictions on abortion rights, racist voter ID laws, deep cuts in unemployment benefits, tax breaks for the wealthy while raising taxes on the working class and poor, permits for fracking, refusal to expand Medicaid as mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

These broad, sweeping attacks have inspired a broad response. Protesters are marching under the slogan "Forward Together, Not One Step Back." In the words of Faith, a protester from Durham, N.C.: "The right wing is attacking us from all angles, so that's how we're fighting back--from all angles."

Tens of thousands of people brought together a variety of social justice concerns in the streets of Raleigh
Tens of thousands of people brought together a variety of social justice concerns in the streets of Raleigh (James Willamor)

The "Moral Movement" began last spring with a series of weekly protests inside and outside the state Capitol building and Raleigh. The actions were dubbed "Moral Monday," with each focusing on a different face of the right-wing attack.

Initiated by the state NAACP and endorsed by religious leaders and progressive coalitions, the protests linked opposition to the attacks on many fronts with the aim of building solidarity against the right's overall program.

More than 900 people were arrested in acts of civil disobedience over the 13 weeks of protest during the summer; rallies were held in more than 30 cities across the state; and some 10,000 protesters turned out for the final action on July 20.

Saturday's demonstration--the eighth annual "Historic Thousands on Jones Street People's Assembly" (HKonJ)--takes place on the second Saturday of February and has grown a lot over the years since it started in 2007. This year, organizers of the march, which included more than 100 labor, religious and civil rights groups, made a special for people to attend in order to revive last year's Moral Monday movement and participate in a mass "Moral March" on Raleigh.

AS PROTESTERS began to gather on Saturday morning, there was a wide range of messages among the crowd: Planned Parenthood stickers, a Fight for 15 banner, anti-racist slogans on signs, placards rejecting restrictive voting laws and demanding a fully funded and expanded Medicaid.

Daryl Atkinson from Wake County had many reasons for attending the march. "Everything from trampling on our voting rights, to the repeal of the Racial Justice Act, not extending unemployment benefits and not expanding Medicaid," he told the Raleigh News & Observer. "The list goes on."

Large contingents of teachers were on hand to protest the underfunding of public education. In step with the national education reform agenda, North Carolina is refusing raises for teachers and directing funds away from public schools and to charter schools or vouchers for private schools.

The extensive 14 Point People's Agenda for North Carolina published on the HKonJ website included demands ranging from a living wage and support for the poor, to health care for all, to affordable housing, to abolishing the deathy penaly and mandatory sentencing laws.

The most significant aspects of the march were the huge size and the incredible spirit of solidarity--a practical expression of Martin Luther King's famous phrase in his Letter from Birmingham Jail: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." This represented a welcome shift in progressive politics in the South. Many protesters compared the march to the civil rights movement, citing the movement's activities as a major step forward in resisting the attacks by the wealthiest 1 Percent.

The main targets of the protest were the Republicans--naturally enough, since they have used their one-party control of the state to spearhead the assault on working people. March leader and North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber took aim at politicians like Republican Gov. Pat McGory and state Budget Chief Art Pope, who he called "extremists."

"You don't have enough political power to vote us away, enough insults to talk us away, or enough money to buy us away," Barber said. Barber is calling for a North Carolina Moral Freedom Summer in 2014--named for the historic Mississippi Freedom Summer 50 years ago that drew supporters from around the country to work with civil rights workers to register Blacks to vote.

This is more than a nod to history. North Carolina enacted one of the worst voter suppression laws in the country last summer, including strict requirements for ID in order to vote and elimination of same-day registration. A new civil rights revolution is needed.

THE CALLOUSNESS and cruelty of Southern Republicans has led many people to look to the Democratic Party as an alternative. But if we're going to build an opposition to the neoliberal assault, the movement can't let Democrats off the hook. Activists have to turn up the heat on both parties. In fact, the Moral Movement actually started with the first HKonJ demonstration in 2007, when the Democrats had a majority of the state legislature.

The real power of the revitalized Moral Movement isn't its connections to the other mainstream political party, but its grassroots strength. Will Bunch, in his blog for, described the Moral Movement as an expression of a growing frustration with austerity:

The fierce urgency of now is the real significance of the "Moral Monday" movement. It's that tens of thousands of people don't want to wait until the next election cycle...they want their voices heard right now. It's in some ways an outgrowth of Occupy and other movements built around the recognition that democracy--as it's practiced in America right now--has failed to help the middle class.

The exciting potential of this Southern wave of protest can't be overstated. The Moral Movement is spreading to neighboring states--to Georgia and South Carolina. In right-to-work states, teachers are standing up to attacks on education, and low-wage and agricultural workers are also organizing. Among the crowd at the Moral March in Raleigh were doctors, nurses and medical students in lab coats, demonstrating their support for expanding Medicaid. The Moral Movement's ties to the labor movement--organized and unorganized--will be key.

Above all, the movement's strength lies in continuing to emphasize solidarity across struggles. Forward together--not one step back!

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