Guest Editorial: North Carolina protests worth keeping eye on
When I first heard about “Moral Monday,” I had no idea what it was and thought it must have something to do with a bunch of Bible-thumping TV evangelists that didn’t get enough of the thumping on Sunday and kept it all going ‘til Monday.
Well, in a sense that is what’s going on, but it’s not exactly what you would expect in terms of TV preachers. It’s a lot of white, middle class church folk that are taking what they hear in church on Sundays and trying to make it real in the streets in protest on Mondays.
It all started a couple of months ago in reaction to the far right policies that were being passed by the North Carolina legislature – policies such as deep cuts in health care, unemployment benefits, and education, as well as attacks on women’s rights and more.
There was the usual opposition reaction from the usual suspects on the left, but this time something different happened. Rev. William Barber, head of the NC NAACP began talking about the moral dimension of what the Legislature was doing and this struck a cord with his fellow church men. And the response went beyond his fellow black churchmen – many folks from the white downtown churches responded, as well.
And they responded, not just with pious, warm words of support, but they started showing up in the streets and some were even getting arrested…and now it’s happening on a regular schedule.
What began with a handful of “the usual suspects” on Monday night at 5pm, has grown to twelve straight weeks of regular protest, with thousands showing up at the state capital in Raleigh. Last Monday, several thousand came and over 100 people, mostly women, were arrested. The total arrested is now over 800.
This isn’t the way most white, middle class, church-going Christians in North Carolina typically spent their summer evenings. Instead of organizing an ice cream social, these folks are organizing for fundamental social change.
So what happened? What turned these hymn singing, mainstream church folks into sign carrying, slogan-chanting protestors?
Rev. Barber described it this way – “The Moral Mondays are the result of seven years of progressive organizing for a new Southern ‘fusion politics’ – a new multi-ethnic, multi-religious coalition with an anti-racist, anti-poverty agenda…to directly attack the old division of the white southern strategy and what we believe were the shortcomings of the so-called Christian evangelical right that limits issues in the public square to things like prayer in the school, abortion and gender issues.”
Is this just wishful thinking, or a re-fried version of the liberal pipe dream with slightly different language?
Possibly, but what seems to be different this time is the active engagement of large numbers of traditional white church folks, led by their clergy. While black clergy have always taken to the streets on behalf of their flock, white folks in the South aren’t used to seeing their preachers carried off to jail in handcuffs.
So why there and why now? The answer may be found in the recent joint statement of major NC leaders from the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Roman Catholic and United Methodist churches. They said, “For us, this is not an act of political partisanship. This is a matter of keeping faith with our understanding of the biblical teaching and imperatives to protect the poor, respect the stranger, care for widows and children and love our neighbors.”
It seems that the radical Republicans in the Legislature have just gone too far…they have crossed the line from mere politics to morally offending middle class whites.
Is this just the usual media-driven flash in the pan? Will it all fade once the legislature leaves town?
The Moral Monday leadership has pledged that their movement will grow and that while the legislature is out of session they will take their protest to the local grass roots level to reach Republican legislators where they live.
Does this mean anything for South Carolina? Is this just the “white liberals” in the Tar Heel state getting mad? Maybe. But, then again, maybe not.
For years, many whites in North Carolina have been proud that their state was more progressive than much of the Deep South and they now feel that this is being lost. They are fed up with politicians that follow a radical agenda that hurts their state.
There is some of this same sense of being fed up with the politicians growing in the Palmetto State. While we don’t have their progressive traditions, we are seeing our legislators following their own radical-right agenda to the detriment of the state as a whole.
So, black or white, go to church this Sunday and listen real closely to your preachers. If they start preaching a lot about “the least of these”…maybe, just maybe, something might be brewing.
Monday evenings might get a lot more interesting soon.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the South Carolina New Democrats, an independent reform group founded by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform to government and politics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.