The scene was Raleigh, N.C., but for many of the people who were there the message and its impact was intended to be national: There is a growing populist resistance to the conservative extremist agenda, and the tens of thousands of people from 43 states who converged on the North Carolina state capital on Saturday is just the beginning.
The people who came to North Carolina to join Moral March on Raleigh saw it as the next phase of the push-back against tea-party Republicans and their assault in North Carolina and elsewhere against economic justice and democratic rights. Campaign for America's Future co-director Roger Hickey was among them, and he has posted on OurFuture.org his account of a "profoundly transformative" movement that "could affect politicians of all stripes this year and for years and decades to come."
The Rev. William J. Barber II, the president of the North Carolina NAACP, organized the march, building upon a series of "Moral Monday" protests against the Republican state legislature and governor. But in his address at the march he stressed that "this is no mere hyperventilation or partisan pouting. This is a fight for the soul and future of our state." [Watch the full address courtesy of WRAL-TV.]
The thousands who listened to the speech believed that in fighting for the soul of North Carolina, they were also fighting for the soul of the nation.
"Outside of North Carolina, there are already other "moral" movements fomenting in neighboring southern states," said OurFuture.org writer and Education Opportunity Network editor Jeff Bryant, who attended the march. South Carolina activists, for example, have started "Truthful Tuesdays" and there are now Moral Mondays in Georgia.
"With the current dysfunction of government at the national level, these state movements will begin to get more attention as they become more of a visible new dynamic contrasting to the stalemate we see in Washington, D.C.," Bryant said. "And the messaging around morality rather than values of economic efficiency and financialization that have been the heart of neoliberalism over the past two to three decades will strike many Americans as a better direction forward."
"We have been called together to fight against a dangerous agenda of extremist laws by the ultraconservative right wing that is choosing the low road," Barber said in his address, "policies that are constitutionally inconsistent, morally indefensible and economically insane."
Those policies include passage of one of the nation's harshest voter suppression laws; the infamous "motorcycle vagina" law that clandestinely inserted severe restrictions on abortion rights into what was purportedly a motorcycle safety bill; cutting off unemployment benefits to 170,000 state residents; rejecting federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act; taking actions that raised the tax burdens on lower-income residents while lowering taxes on the state's wealthiest; and cutting spending on public education and diverting public funding to charter and private schools.
"It is mighty low for us to sing 'America, America, God shed his grace on you' in one breath, and with the other breath deny workers the grace of labor rights and collective bargaining, to cut the grace of safety nets for the needy, and to raise taxes on the poor and working poor, to deny immigrants the grace of fair immigration policies and to undermine the grace due to the rights of to women and the [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community," Barber said. "It’s mighty low to wave banners and put bumper stickers on our cars saying 'God bless America’ but fail to realize our obligation to bless God by how we treat our brothers and sisters."
The Moral March set forth that it called a "5-M" plan for 2014:
- Motivate every citizen to fight against these extremist policies.
- Meet every challenge to suppress the right to vote.
- Mobilize all North Carolinians to the polls regardless of party affiliation.
- Make every effort to fight in the courts against voter suppression and for the restoration of the Voting Rights Act.
- Move every obstacle that could keep people from voting.
Edrie Irvine, a grassroots activist from Washington, D.C. who has been active in a number of demonstrations, said that this march was different. "So many previous gatherings have felt unfocused or hijacked at times," she wrote in an email after the march. "Also, that while there may have been many different groups marching along the same street, it didn't mean that after the event, we'd be still working together toward the same goals. Today, I not only heard a sense of unity in the messages but felt a sense of unity in the people. I didn't walk away with that flushed sense of power I have felt at other times but more a sense of determination that the people I met along the way are committed toward positive ends, achievable ends - the path won't be smooth and victory won't come tomorrow but together they will lift each other up to reach, in Rev. Barber's words, higher ground." [Read Edrie Irvine's full first-person account of her experience at the Moral March on Raleigh.]
"I think one of the most important contributions Moral Mondays has had is to galvanize what have long been separate, left-leaning, single-issue groups pursuing separate agendas into a more cohesive movement," said Tom Sullivan, a North Carolina blogger and activist. "The Forward Together Movement's 'fusion politics' recognizes that for any group to succeed, they all have to succeed – and work together. Adversaries seeking to divide-and-conquer the left have instead galvanized it into a more cohesive, more powerful opposing movement."
In an interview with MSNBC's Karen Finney, Barber said that in the same way that the 1960 sit-ins at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro lit a fire under the civil rights movement nationwide, the spirit of North Carolina's Moral Mondays is spreading through the South and throughout the country as people realize "we have an option in this country. We can take the road to destruction, which is the road of extremism, or we can take the pathway to higher ground."
"I expect the movement to build," Sullivan said. "Fifty years ago, it was 'segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!' until it wasn't, until the weight of the world's collective moral judgement broke it. Same with apartheid. Same with this tea-party nonsense."
RELATED: Dave Johnson on the media blackout of the Moral March on Raleigh.