I called my “Bestest Good Friend” and said it was time for us to put ourselves in peril once again for what we believed. For years we traveled the country causing all kinds of uproar in public schools. We were trying to change the world by changing how teachers taught, and depending on how dangerous folks thought we were, we were called Thelma and Louise–very dangerous girls–or Lucy and Ethel—entertaining and only slightly dangerous to ourselves and others.
Our adventure last week was to go to Raleigh to protest the draconian policies that the recently adjourned North Carolina General Assembly put in place over the last session. As I have stated before, the list of injustices and mean-spirited, prejudicial laws is long. Evidently, I am not the only North Carolinian to be incensed by what has happened to us and our state. There were at least 10,000 of us in Raleigh on Monday evening for the 13th Moral Monday March to pray and make noise for all of the state’s citizens who are being dismissed as insignificant by our Republican controlled government.
The gathering was not exactly what I expected it to be. There were no speeches made by politicians. Almost every speech was made by a cleric of a North Carolina congregation. There were protestant preachers, Jewish Rabbis, and even an Imam from eastern NC. All of them spoke of the immorality of denying unemployment to those 70,000 who cannot find jobs, health care to those 500,000 who need Medicaid, a quality education to students who have no vote, a living wage to teachers, and voting access to those who do not have a government issued ID or will be standing in line when the polls close next election day and the polling places are forbidden BY LAW to extend voting hours.
When my partner in crime and I arrived at Halifax Mall, a grassy field between the legislative building and three other walls of state government buildings, it was hot and sunny. There seemed to be a couple of hundred folks, but not the large crowd that I had hoped to see. As the time came closer to begin, however, busloads of NC Association of Educators members in red shirts began to pour into the space. We greeted them with cheers and applause. We do not have unions in our state so this organization is only able to lobby for educators. The legislators not only ignored this formal representation of teachers’ concerns, they even stripped the organization of the right to have dues withdrawn from teachers’ pay, something that had always been allowed in the past and is done by other state-wide organizations.
Although the red-shirted teachers were the largest group represented on Monday, they were certainly not the only ones, and they did not outnumber the combined crowd of other North Carolinians upset about various laws such as the voter ID bill [the most restrictive passed in the US], the abortion restrictions [a copycat version of the recent Texas bill], provisions to make the way smooth for industries to begin fracking in NC, the loosening of environmental protections across the board, the removal of requirements that donors and producers of political ads have to identify themselves, the bill to permit concealed weapons on state university campuses and in bars and restaurants, the cutting of corporate taxes while raising sales tax which we all will pay, and the list goes on. To be honest, so many things were snuck in amid seemingly harmless, routine bills, that I am not even sure we know everything that they have done to make North Carolina a more dangerous, more impoverished, less educated, more environmentally unsafe and less democratic state.
It was easy to see the divergent nature of the concerns by looking at signs all around us. We were asked by Dr. Barber, the leader of these Moral Mondays, to self-regulate the signs being held up so none had “cuss” words on them. He maintained that we were to be respectful, and he was right. The truth was harsh enough, no swearing needed. I was particularly touched by a child’s sign that read, “I am only 8 years old. What have I done to you?” There were a lot of families with small children in the crowd showing their worry for their children’s futures in North Carolina. I also really liked two signs that, although they were being held by two obviously unrelated folks, connected in a disturbing way. One of the signs was two sided and listed all of the priorities of the majority legislators. The other sign summed these interests and actions up nicely:
Disturbingly, the priorities behind the new laws in NC are tied to religious tenets and seem to be moving toward extremism that is tearing other countries apart.
As we listened to the clerics’ speeches, helicopters buzzed overhead. At one point, Dr. Barber, the leader of these Moral Monday’s pointed them out as he was giving us instructions we had to follow to abide by the legal restrictions placed on the demonstration by the Raleigh police. Spontaneously, the crowd laughed and looked up as we waved to the copters. I’m not sure what they were afraid that we would do, but we were obviously only exercising out right to free speech! At precisely 6:00 pm, the time we had to start marching toward the old Capital building, a rabbi blew a curved ram’s horn and the procession began to move toward the street, no more than ten across and with space between each row—just as instructed!
The procession was led by the clerics and other speakers, followed by the legislators who had voted against the laws we were protesting. We had given them a loud cheer when they were recognized. Then flags led us toward the street for a mile walk through Raleigh’s downtown. There were so many of us, it took an hour to get everyone off of the grassy mall into the street! In addition to those of us for whom the walk was only hot and sweaty, there were others walking laboriously with canes, or being pushed in wheelchairs. Small children were in strollers or on parents’ shoulders. This crowd was not, as our governor tried to dismiss it, outside agitators. These were citizens of North Carolina from every race, every socioeconomic group below the 1%, every faith and every age.
There was no Moral Monday march in Raleigh this week. Since the legislators have arrogantly gone home and hope we will too, the Moral Monday movement will not disappear but go on the road. There will be rallies this summer in all 13 districts. I plan to be at the one in my district, and if that doesn’t get the attention of our local lawmakers, I will go back to Raleigh in the fall, and, if needed, get arrested to make my point. We can’t just silently let this happen to our state. I’ll keep you posted from the front line of civil disobedience, NC style.
My friends and family had feared that Louise and I might get arrested last week, but we were not feeling it. Instead of heading off a cliff, we just got back in our car, headed west into the sunset and stopped in Winston-Salem for a late dinner with wine—putting some distance between ourselves and our last damn crime!