The organizer of a February 8 “moral march” on Raleigh, N.C. says he wants the largest mass demonstration in the South since the 1965 Selma to Montgomery, Ala., civil right march to be a loud rebuke against Tea-Party extremism in state legislatures around the country.
“What we hope this march will do is send a signal around the country that if these legislatures in other Southern states start this extremism, this is what they will face in their state,” said the Rev. William Barber II, the head of the North Carolina NAACP and the leader of “Moral Monday” marches against the North Carolina legislature last year.
Barber addressed a conference call of progressive writers on Tuesday to mobilize participants in the march, which will be the centerpiece of an annual “people’s assembly” that takes place in Raleigh.
Those protests got nationwide attention for their opposition against the radical right-wing agenda of Gov. Pat McCrory and the archconservative legislature. When Republicans got full control of the governor’s office and the state legislature last year, they enacted a budget that cut thousands of public school teachers, diverted public school money to private school vouchers, cut unemployment insurance and Medicaid benefits, and eliminated the earned income tax credit for low-income workers, raising their taxes, while cutting taxes for the state’s highest earners. The state also enacted some of the nation’s most severe restrictions on voting rights, as well as extreme limits on abortion.
The movement that Barber launched in response led to the peaceful arrests of nearly 1,000 people engaged in civil disobedience. More importantly, he says, he brought together what he calls a “fusion movement” of people from varying backgrounds and political ideologies in rebellion against the Tea Party agenda. One consequence is that McCrory is now deeply unpopular in the state.
In recognition of his leadership, Barber received the Paul Wellstone Citizen Leadership Award from the Campaign for America’s Future in November. (Read an excerpt of his acceptance speech.)
Barber said he is focused on drawing people to Raleigh because, “In order to change America, you have to change the South, and in order to change the South, you have to change state by state. What we need now is an indigenous, deeply moral, deeply constitutional, broad-based, agenda-driven, fusion-based model [for] taking on the actions of these extremist and regressive people.”
In addition to the march, what’s formally called the Historic Thousands on Jones St. (HKonJ) People’s Assembly Coalition will hold workshops on the effects of the extremist conservative takeover of state legislatures and how to restore sane policies in these states.
While the march is a response to what Barber calls “Tea Party extremism times two on steroids,” he points out that he does not consider the march as a partisan response or even a “progressive” one, but a call to “our deepest moral values and our deepest constitutional values.”
“Our goal is to be the catalyst of a broader debate and moral conversation that places the common good, our deepest moral values and our deepest constitutional values at the center of our work,” Barber said.
Barber argues that we are in what he calls a “third Reconstruction.” Like the original Reconstruction that followed the Civil War and the apex of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, the nation makes a dramatic move toward equality and justice for all of its citizens that is followed by a backlash as the regressive status quo seeks to reassert itself. In this video, he explains the idea.