The Dynamics Of Moral Mondays: A Human Rights Movement
The Moral Mondays Campaign in North Carolina that is mobilizing thousands to speak out against the legislative attacks on Black, working-class and poor people throughout the state is being talked about across the country, as it expands to other cities.
Moral Mondays in North Carolina has a particular history that needs to be understood to recognize its political aims and the dynamics in moving it forward as a mass campaign and human rights social movement. Broad campaigns and movements for social justice have twists and turns that are influenced by the strength and bases of the class and political forces acting within the front.
The critiques of social movements by many progressives too often rely on what’s written by the mainstream media without any contact with left and progressive forces active in those social movements. They also tend to analyze social movements as if there is only one permanently leading political tendency and that other tendencies are merely tailing with no internal struggle, strategy and independent initiatives. The history of the civil rights movement where Dr. King was the mass spokesperson, points out the internal dynamics within mass movements.
Yes, there are many that see the Moral Mondays as mainly a struggle against the Republican Party control of the State legislature, and as part of an electoral strategy to prepare a Democratic Party base for the next state and national elections. This is clearly one of the strong tendencies, but not the only tendency active in shaping the direction of the Moral Mondays.
The unity-struggle-unity and independent initiative of SNCC is an example of forces representing the most oppressed sectors of the Black masses operating within the civil rights movement and how they were able to influence its direction.
Moral Mondays grew out of a People’s Assembly movement known as Historical Thousands on Jones Street (HKOJ) that was formed in February 2007. The Black masses is the social anchor of the HKOJ, even though its composition and program is broader.
Reverend William Barber II, NC State President of the NAACP, along with others engaged in struggles for social and economic justice and human rights mobilized to convene a People’s Assembly in February 2007 where a 14-point program was developed, and the HKOJ coalition was formed that included the 120 branches of the NC NAACP and 150 community, labor and social justice organizations.
Rev. Barber had been active in struggles around education, voting rights and other issues mainly in the city of Goldsboro where he lives, and pastors his church. In 2002, he came out in support of the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union-UE Local 150, that was organizing at two of the city’s main employers’ of state mental health workers, speaking on the Goldsboro City Hall steps lifting up the right to organize and collective bargaining.
As a leader of the Goldsboro branch of the NC NAACP actively supporting labor and other Black, working-class and poor people’s struggles, Rev. Barber stood out as an emerging statewide leader capable of changing the largely inactive character of the majority of the NC NAACP branches. In 2006 with the help of progressive ministers and allies who were registered NAACP members he was elected NC State President of the NAACP.
The HKOJ began holding annual mobilizations to the NC General Assembly each February, declaring the General Assembly as the People’s House and calling on legislators to implement the People’s Assembly program. Rev. Barber’s leadership and the HKOJ mobilizations began to radicalize and transform many of the 120 NC NAACP Branches, including the recruitment of a large and active youth wing.
The HKOJ and its demands on the General Assembly began when the Democrats held the majority in the State Legislature. After a ruling by the International Labor Organization (ILO) a agency of the United Nations to a complaint filed by the UE initiated International Worker Justice Campaign finding North Carolina being out of compliance with international conventions and treaties by denying public sector workers collective bargaining rights, a bill was president to the NC legislature by an ally in the Democratic Party, calling for the repealing of the ban on collective bargaining rights for public sector workers. Despite the Democratic Party having a majority, and that support was shown by organized labor and many community and social movement organizations, the bill never got out of one of the committees to make it to the floor for a vote by the General Assembly. It is clear to many in the Moral Mondays that the Democratic Party is not in favor of empowering the working-class against the forces of capital that largely dictate and shape the policies of the state.
Moral Mondays have mobilized thousands to take away the moral high ground from the religious right whose so-call moral agenda is racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and divisive and tries to appeal mainly to the white working-class. Moral Mondays have injected a liberation theology creating a popular social ministry radicalizing many faith leaders as part of the fight-back against the neo-fascists that not only have a base in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress, but also a social base in the white working-class that has been growing and mobilized during the Obama administration.
The next step in the moral argument will be to challenge the capitalist system as Dr. King did. Moral Mondays must embrace the demand for human rights, elevating the demands for social justice above the laws of U.S. imperialism. Human rights are international, inalienable and place’s the struggle in an international context.
An important part of the HKOJ strategy that has yet to be implemented, is the building of local peoples assemblies in every major city and county to bring together social justice forces as a peoples movement infrastructure. This would help to build mass based power to impact not only on the legislative and local political districts, but also to build organizations and solidarity to empower the people working in and relying on the social and economic institutions where state policies are carried out.
The civil disobedience phase that resulted in the arrests of 941 Moral Monday activists was a very important tactic. Some viewed it as replicating a tactic of the Southern civil rights movement led by Dr. King to give it a historical political connection. Others viewed and engaged in it as a tactic to help raise the level of militancy of the mass struggles; and to expose the increasing repression and role of the state in pushing austerity policies and denying democratic and constitutional rights to the people’s movements.
The trials of about 50 of the Moral Monday’s arrestees so far have helped to expose the repressive role of the state. They brought out how the police agencies were secretly coming into the Moral Monday meetings and conducting surveillance, and how the court’s rulings were inconsistent and sort to divide and create confusion among the arrestees.
There was a struggle within the Moral Monday’s campaign following the first court conviction. There was a call for the for Moral Monday’s leaders and mobilizations to raise the demand to drop the charges of all Moral Monday arrestees and overturn the convictions, to highlight the struggle against the state criminalizing the right to protest. However, the actual struggle around this demand which still needs to grow stronger had to be independently initiated by the labor arrestees and their allies.
Moral Mondays have help to create a statewide climate of mass fight-back that can encourage and support local fight-backs led by local organizations and social movements. North Carolina is referred to as ground zero in the mass fight-back against the right.
In generalizing the attacks on the people are as morally unconscionable in an effort reflect the multi-class and multi-racial breath of the Moral Monday mobilizations, it is important not to downplay the racist and depression level impacts that the cuts and policies are having on working-class Black, other people of color and women; how the media criminalizes these disproportionately impacted communities; and why there is greater police brutality, government repression, vigilante attacks and mass incarceration of the people in and from these communities.
The Black Workers For Justice made a call at No More Trayvons rallies it sponsored, for people to come the Moral Monday the following day with signs, banners, etc demanding – Justice For Trayvon Martin and Stop the War on Black America. A couple hundred signs were distributed and held high by Black, people of color and many whites. There was an increase in the turnout of Black people at the Moral Monday following the court’s not guilty verdict of Trayvons murderer George Zimmerman. As one radical minister said; Moral Mondays is a real opportunity to provide an anti-racist education to the large number of whites participating in Moral Mondays.
Tactics vary in the Moral Monday movement, depending on the initiative of the organizations and movements participating. There was a Moral Monday rally in Washington, NC, a working-class city with a significant Black population, opposing the closing of the Vidant Pungo hospital recently purchased by the Vidant Medical Center, a regional monopoly serving 1.4 million people in 29 Black Belt counties in Northeastern part of the state. An information picket has also been launched at the stores of billionaire tea party and ALEC financer and NC State budget director Art Pope. These actions show the potential of the Moral Mondays in helping to expose the domination by the corporate class over state government, and the importance of challenging the capitalist economic base in the struggle against austerity.
Mobilizing Labor’s Rank-and-file
On September 21, 2013, the Southern Workers Assembly (SWA) organized a labor fight-back conference that brought together North Carolina rank-and-file members, leaders and organizers of several unions and organizing campaigns to hammer out a Workers Democracy Campaign to raise the visibility of labor in the Moral Mondays movement, and to carry out and promote the fight-back at the workplace and the right to organize. This conference took place after the arrests of the SWA Moral Monday labor delegation and its holding of a series of public hearings in 3 cities to bring forth their issues and demands.
Following the conference and the agitation of the SWA, we began to see the following rank-and-file actions – teachers, parents and students held “Walk ins” at the public schools in cities across the state wearing red t-shirts in protest of over crowed class sizes, low teachers pay and the state budget cuts in education; UFCW members held a Flash mob inside of a Wal-Mart store on working poor conditions and the right to organize; the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) continue the struggle and demand on the R.J. Reynolds Corporation to bargain with the tobacco workers organized by FLOC; the NC Public Service Workers Union-UE 150, held rallies at mental health hospitals and delivered demands to the headquarters of the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources; and the Fast Food workers campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour helped to popularize and energize the growing struggles for workers democracy and power that are beginning to converge.
This conscious effort to organize and raise the profile, voice and influence of labor is a growing aspect of the Moral Monday’s movement. The SWA has been building a rank-and-file movement trying to push labor activism and social movement unionism from the bottom up. Some national unions whose main memberships are outside of the South have contributed financial support, but most have not made a serious effort to mobilize their rank-and-file as part of and in support of Moral Mondays.
The passage of a resolution at the AFL-CIO National Convention in 2013 on Organizing the South was partly influenced by the success of Moral Monday’s mobilizing of thousands in NC, recognizing its potential to expand South wide as another civil rights movement. Representatives and allies of the SWA played an important role in developing the language of the AFL.CIO resolution, and for its introduction into the national convention. An officer in the NC state AFL.CIO active in Moral Mondays led a workshop at the convention on organizing in the South
Toward building a national movement
Another weakness in the Moral Monday’s has been the lack of demands on and criticisms of the federal government’s complicity with the dictates of big capital and its impacts on the states. This is due in part to not wanting to appear to be attacking the Obama administration, especially when he is constantly experiencing racist attacks from the right. This is also a result of the lack of a popular understanding that Obama is the President of an imperialist state-dominated international economic system; and that corporate power demands that he protects this system. Helping to raise this consciousness is one of the important tasks of the left within this movement.
The Supreme Court’s removal of Section-4 of the Voting Rights Act, and the U.S. Congress sequester shutting down of parts of the federal government has enabled many to begin to see the power and rule of the corporate class over the federal government, even under Obama administration.
The spreading of the Moral Mondays to other cities throughout the South and across the country will help to sharpen the connection between the struggles against corporate domination of the states and the struggles against corporate rule over the federal government.
One of the important lessons and strengths of the civil rights movement was that it did not allow the federal government to hide behind states rights as a way of refusing to deal with state laws throughout the South that collectively created Jim Crow, as racist system of national and colonial oppression. The civil rights movement challenged those considered by some as allies like President’s Kennedy and Johnson, even though they signed an Executive Order, Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.
The spreading of Moral Mondays is a very important. However, they must be led by people’s movement coalitions, democratically involving the people’s organizations, and not by a single organization however sincere, dedicated and articulate the leader.
To connect and better coordinate the work of civil rights organizations in Mississippi in 1962, and to prevent a single organization from calling all of the shorts, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) was formed as a sort of a united front involving the NAACP, CORE, SCLS and SNCC.
The Moral Monday’s radicalizing of the clergy and their church members is very important. However, the emphasis on Moral principles, must not give clergy an automatic right to leadership in Moral Mondays over those in the social movements and mass organizations. That was initially the thinking at the founding of Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957.
It is also important not to misinterpret Dr. King’s call for America to have a moral conscience as simply meaning that the minds of those in legislative positions need to change. He was talking about the immorality of a system that places profits and wars over human needs being fundamentally changed.
The student sit-ins at the Woolworth store in Greensboro, NC spread throughout the South and influenced the tactics of the civil rights movement, and Ella Bakers efforts that helped found the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were independent initiatives that helped to influence the tactics and political demands of the civil rights movement.
In sum we have to place this Moral Monday campaign within our understanding of the period we are in. The main question is whether we are in motion, whether we are organizing and mobilizing to fight back.
When people fight they raise questions about power and oppression. When people fight back they learn because they know that learning is how they can fight better.
The Black Left Unity Network (BLUN) will help to spread the Moral Mondays and similar movements to other cities across the country. Part of the BLUN role will be to mobilize radical thinking people rooted in the mass struggles to join the fight; work to raise the level of thinking of the people being radicalized by the struggle; and work to organize cooperation of the radical forces to help advance the strategy and tactics that can guide the movement on to victory at this juncture.
Black Workers For Justice &
Black Left Unity Network 1/25/14