“There is a longing in America for the recovery of our deepest moral and Constitutional values in public policies, policies people know that hurt the poor, children, women, the sick, and voting rights…
“We know our politics can be moral. Our politics can be merciful. Our politics can be kind, caring, loving and just and fair and equal.”
– Rev. William Barber, of Moral Mondays, North Carolina, helping to launch Georgia’s Moral Monday efforts, January 13, 2014
It’s a great movement. A moral movement. Not merely a moment captured in clever alliteration. Moral Mondays is a movement started in Raleigh, North Carolina, last year, motivated by the extreme actions of a newly elected governor and state legislature whose “policies are constitutionally inconsistent, morally indefensible, and economically in shame.”
Rev. Barber said those words in front of the Georgia Capitol, in Atlanta, Monday, not just to point a finger at North Carolina and Georgia, but at every state, he said, “that divides people by race and extremist propaganda.”
“Justice,” protester Rod Mack called it, as he held a hand written sign calling to replace Georgia’s Republican Gov. Nathan Deal with Democrat State Senator Jason Carter, this fall.
Barbara Adle, a participant in the Atlanta rally who would benefit from Medicaid expansion, agreed. “Justice means, to me, equal access to affordable housing, health care, food, jobs. Until every person has equitable access to get their basic needs met, there is no justice.”
Mack said the injustice in Georgia comes from Gov. Deal having “no interest in making sure that 650,000” uninsured Georgians are covered under the Affordable Care Act. “Our state is so far behind in a lot of things,” he lamented. “We need to catch up.”
Another protester, Chris “Cholu” Bondurant, who describes himself as “a frequent flyer” in the local health system, also pointed to Deal as the one person who could change things, but is unwilling to do so. “I have ongoing healthcare problems,” he said, “and would appreciate it if the governor would quit kowtowing to his right wing ideologues and do what is best for the working class people of Georgia.”
Of course, Georgia and North Carolina aren’t the only states where this is an issue. On Tuesday, Rev. Barber and the thirty members of his home state’s Moral Monday Coalition who took a bus to Atlanta, headed to Columbia, South Carolina, to rally with that state’s Truthful Tuesdays protesters.
As he said in Atlanta, “We need state movements to have national implications. It’s the only the way forward.” He called this state-by-state movement away from the politics of fear “a new Southern Strategy.”
That term, “Southern Strategy,” was originally a Republican plan started by Richard Nixon’s campaign for reelection, where the idea was to drive a wedge between white southerners, and the Democrats’ cultural base, by reenforcing the notion of white privilege and exploiting Southern Man’s worst fears about minorities and federalism. That Rev. Barber co-opted it for the growing Moral Monday movement is not surprising, because, he says, the so-called Religious Right, who are the cornerstone of the Republican strategy, ignored the principal of providing for “even the least of these,” and adopted, instead, what he called a “Pharisetical” and “heretical” morality of hate and exclusion.
“If you really want to have a moral discussion,” he challenged the far right, “bring it on, baby!”
Some took a more humanistic approach to the moral questions of fairness. “I think of it as an ethical issue,” said Adle. “If we don’t have a ‘common good’ theme or practice, that’s how you end up with what we have, the split between the haves and the have-nots.”
What was most encouraging about the first Moral Mondays Georgia rally, was that it showed that all Georgians are stakeholders, because it brought out not only seasoned activists and sign waving liberals, but also young Millennials for whom this cause resonates.
Joanna Petolillo and Sarah Walling are twenty-five-year-old women who have been best friends for eight years. They finish each other’s sentences. Their birthdays are both in November, and they both fear what will happen when they are no longer able to be on their parents’ health insurance policies. They found out about the rally through Facebook, and this was the first time either of them participated in political activism.
Walling, a nursing student at a school in Forsyth County, Georgia, said that talking about current events was important to her, and her contemporaries. “You’d be surprised how many times I’ve gone out to just grab a drink with friends and we end up talking about the political policies in place and the ones they’re trying to put in place, and just how it’s going to have a negative effect on us and our economy and our ability to move forward.”
And what will she do with what she learned, Monday? “We can go back and be a voice to our friends and our communities and our co-workers and expand it beyond just ourselves,” she said.
Petolillo said they chose to participate, not just because of their own futures, but for the futures of the children they plan to have. “Just the possibility of our kids getting up to better status than we were able to,” she explained.
Walling agreed. “As my dad always says, we want to leave it better than when we came into it.”
Moral Mondays Georgia will participate in the Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday march, Monday, January 20, 2014. The next rally at the State Capitol is scheduled for January 27, at 4pm. See moralmondayga.com for details.