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Friday, June 12, 2015

June 12, 2015: North Carolina Stories: Moral Mondays



[In honor of the upcoming birthday of an old friend, on which more this weekend, a series on histories and stories from the Tarheel State! Add your Carolinian responses and stories in comments, y’all!]
On two complementary contexts for an inspiring protest movement.
Just over two years ago, in April 2013, a number of North Carolina religious and political leaders, including NAACP chairperson and reverend William Barber, began organizing weekly civil disobedience activities known as Moral Mondays. Outraged at a number of extreme laws passed by the state’s newly-elected GOP majority in the state legislature and signed by Governor Pat McCrory, including restrctions on voting rights, cuts to numerous social and educational programs, and the repeal of the state’s ground-breaking Racial Justice Act, these progressive activists organized sit-ins at the legislature, marches and protests, and other civil actions in Raleigh that subsequently spread, both across the state and then to other neighboring states and beyond. Originally intended to end that same summer, the Moral Monday protests have instead continued and expanded, and are still going strong as we near the summer of 2015.
The obvious and important context for Moral Mondays is the Civil Rights Movement, for which these protests seem like a clear 21st century parallel: not only because they have been led by African American leaders and have frequently focused on issues of or closely related to race, but also and even more importantly because of their reliance on strategies of civil disobedience, passive resistance, and other hallmarks of the Civil Rights movement. I call those latter Civil Rights parallels more important because much of the time, contemporary social and cultural movements such as #BlackLivesMatter have been critiqued by their opponents as being more divisive or violent than the Civil Rights Movement’s protests. While of course many of those critics are hypocrites who would have opposed the Civil Rights Movement just as strenuously, and for whom no contemporary arguments would change their perspective, many others might benefit from a greater awareness of just how fully current movements echo that prior one—with Moral Mondays being a prime example.
There’s a second, just as significant historical context for Moral Mondays, however. In this April piece for the great We’re History site, I argued that we need to include in our collective memories a much fuller sense of the progressive side within American Christianity, the ways in which our most conservative or exclusionary religious views have been consistently counter-balanced by liberal, inclusive, activist forms of religious community. In an era when Christian activism is most frequently associated with discriminatory efforts like the “Religious Freedom” laws to which I was responding in that piece, it’s more important than ever to note that there are likewise ongoing expressions of progressive religion, movements that wed spirituality and faith to social justice and reform. From their very name on to every aspect of their history, purpose, and leadership, North Carolina’s Moral Mondays represent such a progressive spiritual movement—just one more reason why we should include these activist efforts in any and all conversations about contemporary American politics.
Special post this weekend,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Carolinian histories or stories you’d share?

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