In 1857, Frederick Douglass delivered a speech about the history of the struggle for human freedom and emancipation in which he noted the following: “This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Moral Monday emerged from this unending struggle for human freedom and dignity.
Moral Monday protests in Raleigh and across North Carolina have been a powerful tool for conveying the demands of everyday-citizens in our great state to their General Assembly, and in so doing, Moral Monday has introduced many to the power of taking collective action.
We are at a crossroads in North Carolina that has gone far beyond party politics. Some government officials and the corporate campaign donors who back them are focused on doing their best for those with the most, regardless of the consequences. It will take people of good conscience everywhere not only to stand up but to stand together to demand accountability for those who have reversed decades of progress and put us on a path to decline.
At what cost to the residents of this state do our lawmakers and our governor do the bidding of organized greed? A devastating coal ash spill fouls our waterways, and fracking threatens our water supply. Children as young as 12 work our tobacco fields. Jobless North Carolinians struggle to make ends meet on reduced and inadequate unemployment benefits. Teachers work without pay raises, textbooks and teaching assistants. Children, the aged and the disabled are being kicked off Medicaid while hundreds of thousands are left to get sick and die, caught up in a Medicaid blockade of lawmakers’ own making. Citizens are made to overcome obstacles in exercising their right to vote. Even our right to vote is under attack. If we stand by and do nothing, we are signing off on this moral bankruptcy.
Moral Monday supporters are trying to make sure we pull North Carolina out of this moral bankruptcy by demanding that the General Assembly start governing, as our state constitution demands, “for the good of the whole” and not just the privileged few. Instead of stacking the deck in favor of those with the most political clout, we need to reward hard work and provide opportunity for everyone to pursue their own happiness.
As we focus this upcoming Moral Monday protest on working men and women, let’s keep in mind how labor unions have been a central force for fighting economic inequality and creating the middle class in the United States. Workers’ rights are civil rights, and unions have been an effective tool in advocating for both. Unions in North Carolina and across the South have long been faithful to Douglass’ vision of human freedom by striving toward equality and opportunity as engines of progress created through struggle.
Unions give workers power by providing a collective voice. That gives workers power not only in the workplace but also at the ballot box and in the policy debate. The kind of solidarity witnessed at Moral Monday and in union halls across North Carolina is the key to raising wages, fighting poverty, protecting our environment, preserving public education and saving our democracy.
As any good union member knows, we’re stronger together.
Moral Monday provides a collective voice and an outlet for all those in North Carolina who recognize that our legislature and our governor have gone too far and that balance must be restored before it is too late. That is why we will continue the struggle. We will never be silenced, and just like a tree that’s planted by the water, we shall not be moved. Workers will stand with other Moral Monday supporters for as long as it takes to bring fairness to our government and justice to our people.
MaryBe McMillan is secretary-treasurer of the North Carolina State AFL-CIO.