Civic complacency waxes and wanes as much as history repeats.
Right now, though, Moral Monday lets us know where we are on the pendulum of civic responsibility. And, no matter where you stand – on Halifax Mall in protest of regressive policies that affect children, women and workers or far from it – you can’t deny the movement symbolizes something I speak about often in this space: We have to act, in unity – and we must keep at it, if not ahead of it, always planning for what’s next, for democracy’s sake.
By the thousands, people have protested. By the hundreds, they’ve been arrested, handcuffed on charges of civil disobedience. It has quickly become a weekly tradition as the number of protesters, rain or shine, has grown each Monday from 17 on April 29 to an estimated 4,000 by early June. Arrests have grown, too, totaling 675 by the end of the ninth Moral Monday rally July 1, the day nearly 70,000 people lost unemployment benefits.
Meanwhile, a watchful nation weighs in as the unabashedly conservative agenda of Gov. Pat McCrory and a majority-Republican General Assembly marks North Carolina as the only state to reject federally funded unemployment benefits. Our Republican state lawmakers also passed measures to restrict voting rights, repeal the Racial Justice Act, cut Medicaid, raise taxes on the working poor, cut pre-school programs and privatize both education and healthcare. On Tuesday, just before the holiday break, in a surprise move, senators tagged abortion restrictions onto another bill. The bill quickly passed an early vote, sparking protests Wednesday morning.
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The momentum can’t stop. It’s the kind of civic and social action that energizes democracy and empowers us to exercise our right to protest and demonstrate peacefully, and to protect the Constitutions of our state and nation.
Even so, as the legislative season presumably inches toward its close, perhaps Moral Monday also catapults us to exercise our collective economic power, both to outlast the most stubborn of legislative sessions and spawn change. Perhaps, pokes to the state’s economy will urge elected lawmakers to listen a little closer to the cries of their constituents. Perhaps bringing even more national attention to the state, even on the heels of two state leaders being chosen for posts by the Obama administration, will persuade legislators to reject or reverse legislation that goes against the common good, and adversely affects thousands of us or our neighbors.
Think about it: African-Americans alone have a projected buying power of $1.1 trillion by 2015, according to a study by the Nielsen Company, “African-American Consumers: Still Vital, Still Growing.” The Moral Monday movement is a diverse one, so imagine the possibilities if we employ our collective consumer power to leverage our collective civic power and influence the laws that govern us.
In addition to our economic power to choose where we spend our money to shop, vacation, meet or celebrate, there are other grassroots ways to remind our lawmakers who butters their political bread. Consider:
• Encourage state lawmakers to reconsider through letters, calls and emails.
• Scour campaign finance reports to decide where you will or won’t spend your money based on who backs lawmakers who push and pass bills that go against our constitution and progress made in our state.
• Regain legislative control: Study the lay of the political landscape with a high-powered magnifier, and then groom – and seat – candidates more likely to advocate for under-represented and needy groups.
It’s not original. The last time I saw anything remotely similar was in 2000. The place: Columbia, S.C. The issue: the state legislature’s refusal to remove the Confederate flag – long held as a symbol of resistance to civil rights and equality – from atop the statehouse dome and in legislative chambers, places of sovereignty.
Two results: 1) King Day at the Dome, a protest rally of 50,000 from across the country recorded one of the largest public rallies in the Southeast; 2) the S.C. NAACP’s call for economic sanctions against South Carolina’s tourism industry, asking everyone to “consider locations other than the state of South Carolina as convention or meeting sites.” Ironically, the N.C. NAACP moved its meetings and events here, feeding our state’s economy.
Thirteen years later, the N.C. NAACP calls its overall movement Forward Together as its leader, the Rev. William J. Barber II, assures, “We’re right.”
When that’s true, the house of cards built by those who are wrong usually collapses.
That’s called karma, morally speaking.