Compiled by MCJ Staff
In 2013, civil rights activists gathered in North Carolina for the very first Moral Monday. That state’s legislature was passing a series of bills to crush working people, and it was time to say “no more.”
What began with dozens of people has since grown into peaceful protests of hundreds upon thousands. When state legislatures began following the lead of North Carolina, activists in those states rose up as well, and demanded their elected officials work for the people, not against them.
Six states now have Moral Monday movements.
Make that seven with the recent inclusion of Wisconsin, which held the first ever Moral Monday Movement training session in the state Saturday, June 14, at the Milwaukee Area Labor Council offices on South Hawley Road.
The training session was conducted by Moral Monday’s co-founder Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, president of the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP. His presence in Milwaukee was at the request of the Wisconsin NAACP State Conference of Branches.
This past April, the NAACP of Wisconsin became the first Northern NAACP state conference to officially become a member of the Moral Monday Movement.
The NAACP was joined at the Saturday training session by a statewide progressive coalition of labor, social justice, religious and community leaders.
This type of coalition, Barber said during a community round table and news conference last Friday at the Martin Luther King Drive offices of the Milwaukee NAACP—which must include young, old, Black, White, Latino and Asian—can bring to bear the type of collective moral power and influence to defeat the extreme right Conservative agenda that is running roughshod over state politics and legislatures across the nation, particularly in the South and parts of the West, Midwest and East.
With the backing of Tea Party extremist, right-wing conservative talk radio and cable television news, as well as the financial support of corporations headed by extremist conservative businessmen, Republican governors and legislatures have been turning back the clock.
Once they had assumed office during the conservative sweep of state elections a little over four years ago, the conservative legislatures and governors quickly passed legislation crippling, if not destroying: The collective bargaining rights of labor unions, abortion rights by limiting the ability of doctors and clinics to perform them, placing on voters restrictive voting rights measures that included requiring photo IDs and limiting voting hours and days.
Barber shared with the gathering some background of the movement he helped start in North Carolina, which had echoes of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950 and 60s.
Barber said the North Carolina’s Moral Movement message was simple but direct: Kicking hard-working people when they’re down is not just bad policy, it’s against the common good and disregards human rights. It is a refusal to lean to the better angels of ourselves.
By limiting voting rights, taking away collective bargaining and limiting abortion rights, the Conservative right is hell-bent on pushing through bills to slash Medicaid, raise taxes on the working and the poor, cripple education, deny rights to workers, women, and the LGBT community.
Giving what sounded like a preview of what he shared on Saturday, Barber stressed you don’t have to win everybody over to your cause in order to win.
“Just a few people can impact what you’re doing,” Barber said. “You don’t have to have someone with you all the way; just on a few things that can advance your common agenda.”
The North Carolina NAACP president said it is important to stress the moral argument in winning allies and unifying groups to a cause: Protecting the rights of individuals and groups as it relates to the precepts of the U.S. Constitution.
“You bring divergent groups around a common agenda from a moral perspective,” stressed.
Barber called Milwaukee the “Selma of the North” (Selma being Selma Alabama, the epicenter of several important civil rights battles during the 50s), and noted Milwaukee civil rights activist Father James Groppi, who led the protests for open housing in the 60s; and Dr. Martin Luther King’s visit to the city.
In comparing Wisconsin’s governor and Conservative legislature to that of his own state, Barber said the legislative battles both states are waging is not about Democrats and Republicans fighting each other, but about extremism at its most extreme.
“It (extremism) is a continuation of the White Southern Strategy, which is find out who doesn’t like each other and divide them. The myth of extremism is a hot button issue that just doesn’t hurt some, but hurts everyone.”
Barber said it is imperative state movements are built and brought together in a network that will shift the center of gravity.
“The Moral Movement is a marathon, not a sprint. It will shift the political gravity until people elected to do one (bad) thing won’t be able to do it politically.”
–MCJ Editor Thomas Mitchell, Jr. contributed to this article.