In the months since Moral Mondays began in Raleigh, North Carolina, they spread first across the state of North Carolina, then to other Southern States. There’s also a similar action being planned in Arizona as I write this.
On a cold Saturday at the beginning of February, activist groups and allied citizens not only from across the state but across the country descended on Raleigh for a massive march that was apparently “the largest civil rights demonstration in the South since the march to Selma in 1965” (source). With a 14 point agenda that in many ways stands in direct opposition to the ultra conservative laws that are being passed here and in many, many other states, this march attracted a huge grassroots base of people willing to stand together for diverse causes.
I arrived at Shaw University, the origin point for the march, extremely early since I know parking in downtown Raleigh can turn into a nightmare. Already, people were arriving, packing the tiny McDonald’s on the corner to get a cup of coffee before the rally began. As I walked up I heard John Lennon’s “Imagine” playing over the PA system, which I thought was odd given the distinctly religious nature of the rhetoric that surrounds Moral Mondays.
Equality NC, a gay rights group, was handing out signs. Eventually, a cluster of women in pink hats (I think they were with NARAL) made their way down the hill to the street. A young child in front of me held a sign saying “Education is a right, not a privilege.” People with giant, important-looking cameras snapped photos continuously. A small group of doctors and medical students in lab coats slowly swelled to fifteen or twenty people. As the crowd filled in, packed the street, it was fed by streams of people from buses, up to a hundred of those buses from out of state.
During the summer, detractors accused the Moral Monday movement of inflating their ranks by bringing in “outside agitators.” But now that we have established our popular support across the state, it’s important for others to join us, because it isn’t just North Carolina being targeted by right wing extremism. Bills of an eerily similar nature have been popping up across the United States. We all need to be taking to the streets in protest.
The rally kicked off with some gospel music, a necessary shot of energy for a cold, overcast early morning. Then there were speeches, sounding a note of solidarity with one anothers’ causes.
I struck up a conversation with someone holding a sign saying “Close prisons, fund schools.” She was there with a small group from the ISO of Asheville. They made me feel right at home, and since I was unable to locate the friend I was supposed to meet at the march, I ended up marching with them. Waiting out in the cold for a couple hours before you actually start marching is much easier when you get to talk about socialism, queer liberation, feminism, and strategies for tearing down white supremacy.
When I tweeted something about marching with some socialists, a woman on twitter retweeted me as a string of anti-Moral Monday tweets. I realized then that the presence of self-proclaimed radical progressives at a march is damning to some. But I’m fine with that. As long as others at the march accept our solidarity and don’t mind associating with us, I’m not going to let the pearl-clutching of the right wing worry me.
Besides, socialists have all the best chants. We were toward the back of the march, but we all kept our energy up in a rousing battery of chants led by my new friends. They improvised one on the spot: “From Sochi, to Raleigh, we demand equality!” Another one that caught on pretty well around us was, “Money for jobs and education, not for mass incarceration!” Others condemned racist police, demanded civil rights for people of all races, demanded free abortion access for everyone, and my favorite one went, “1, 2, 3, 4, open up the closet door, 5, 6, 7, 8, don’t assume your kids are straight!”
The march stretched on in both directions as far as I could see. This aerial shot was posted on Twitter by @melbacoast:
We marched past a single counter-protester (or just a usual street preacher type that just happened to be out that day). His sign declared that “abortionists” and “homosexuals” among others were going to burn in hell. Eh, as long as he’s not there I’m cool with it.
When we reached the end of the march, there was a giant TV screen set up so we could see Reverend Barber’s speech. I have no idea how many blocks further on the march extended, but from the look of photos I’ve seen it was quite a ways.
I didn’t take any video of Rev. Barber’s address but this video I found on youtube is a segment of the speech:
I hope that, like me, others not only attended the march but used it as an opportunity to meet like-minded people, to strengthen or build new support networks, to get charged up for more activism. If Moral Monday only results in a shift of state power, it will have fallen well short of the justice we’re all seeking. It is up to us, the citizens and organizers standing on those Raleigh streets, to keep organizing, agitating, and enacting justice in our own communities.
Forward together, not one step back.