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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

April 25, 2017: Civil Disobedience: Moral Mondays

[On April 28th, 1967, Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted into the U.S. army and was stripped of his heavyweight title. So this week, I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of contexts for moments and acts of civil disobedience, leading up to Friday’s post on Ali’s activism.]
On two complementary contexts for an inspiring, influential protest movement.
Almost exactly four 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 and growing as we near the summer of 2017 (my friend Steve lives in North Carolina and has recently attended some on behalf of the animal rights community).
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 2015 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 directly 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 protest and politics.
Next civil disobedience post tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other contexts for civil disobedience you’d highlight?

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