Many faith leaders of my generation were inspired to dedicate ourselves to seeking social justice because of Nelson Mandela. The struggle he led for equality in South Africa not only ended a brutally oppressive and racist regime, but also empowered people around the globe to spark movements for justice and reconciliation in their own nations. We owe Mandela a great debt.
Mandela wasn’t just a global icon, he was a community organizer. The anti-apartheid movement succeeded not only because of his personal leadership, but also because he was part of a mass movement for equality.
This lesson holds true today. A day after President Obama quoted Pope Francis in a landmark speech declaring our nation’s staggering economic inequality the central challenge of our time, fast-food workers in more than 100 U.S. cities mounted a strike for living wages.
I’m humbled by the courage of these workers – modern-day Davids — risking their jobs by standing up to wealthy corporations that dole out millions to CEOs but pay their employees so poorly that many must turn to public assistance to feed their families. This is a sinful system that not only forces millions of families into hardship, but also cost taxpayers $3.8 billion every year.
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Church bells rang out across the country yesterday as thousands of Americans gathered in Washington to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Speakers at the Lincoln Memorial pointed out both the tremendous progress made and the steep road ahead on our journey to fulfilling the ideals that were so resoundingly expressed half a century ago.
At the March and in congregations hosting commemorative services, leaders addressed issues such as jobs, living wages, economic inequality, education, mass incarceration, healthcare, immigration reform, and discrimination against minority voters. That sounds like quite a laundry list of issues, but they are systemically linked and woven together by a thread of common values – dignity, equality and justice.
As the marchers return to their home communities, the fight for these values carries on. Today fast food workers in 60 cities mounted the largest strike ever for living wages in their industry. Included were places where key events of the civil rights movement took place, such as Raleigh, Chicago and Memphis.
Led by the faith community, people across the country are marching, holding vigils and pressing lawmakers every single day to pass immigration reform that protects immigrant workers and families, builds a roadmap to citizenship and ends the gross miscarriages of justice caused by our broken system. The list of struggles for justice animated by Dr. King’s dream is long.
When President Obama said yesterday that “the arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own,” I nodded along in agreement, but I also felt a flutter of fear in my chest because none of us alone is equal to this great task. Our success, which is far from guaranteed, depends on our ability to inspire, organize and mobilize. Only then can we make the cost of perpetuating injustice unbearable.
When, God willing, my son goes to the Lincoln Memorial 50 years from now to mark the century anniversary of the March on Washington, I want him to be standing shoulder to shoulder with people of all races in a nation where full justice and equality are no longer such a distant dream. Whether that happens is far outside my control. But I do have a small say over whether he knows that his parents’ generation did all they could.
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Since the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act earlier this summer, several states have moved to enact onerous new voting restrictions. Nowhere was the resulting legislation worse than in North Carolina, where the right-wing legislature and governor pushed through a voter suppression bill that severely curtailed early voting, eliminated same-day registration, and put in place even stricter voter-ID requirements.
This sort of immoral legislation is exactly why the state needs the Moral Monday movement, a diverse religious and secular coalition led by North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber II. As we mentioned a few weeks ago, the protesters have been gathering every Monday at the North Carolina state capitol to oppose the radical agenda of the Republican-controlled legislature. In an incredible act of civil disobedience, more than 900 protesters were peacefully arrested over 12 weeks.
Rather than slow down when the legislative session ended, the Moral Monday organizers took their movement on the road and followed the General Assembly members back to their districts. Earlier this month they headed up to the mountains, drawing 10,000 people to a rally in Asheville – the largest Moral Monday yet. This week they expanded even further, as thousands rallied in Charlotte, as well as in the towns of Burnsville in the mountains and Manteo in the Outer Banks, to protest the new election law, cuts to unemployment benefits, and other extreme policies.
This movement hasn’t gone unnoticed by North Carolina voters. A poll last week found that the Moral Monday protesters are now more popular than the Republican state legislature and the governor. In fact, since the protests started, Gov. Pat McCrory has seen his favorability rating drop 26 per cent. This is how real social change begins.
With extreme politicians now free to pass voter suppression laws, we need more movements like Moral Mondays to push back and keep up the pressure. With Congress unlikely to take the steps necessary to restore the Voting Rights Act, it’s up to activists at the state level to lead the fight to protect the right to vote. Faith leaders can continue to be on a forefront of defining this issue in the moral terms it deserves. Rev. Barber summed it up well in a recent news conference: “We are no longer going to let the so-called religious right define the moral discourse in the public square.”
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Several of my colleagues at Faith in Public Life made a pilgrimage to this week’s Moral Monday demonstration at the North Carolina state capitol, where they found a moving display of the faith community’s moral courage and perseverance in the face of injustice. Building upon 12 weeks of remarkable grassroots mobilizing, hundreds of people came out to make their voices heard, more than 70 were arrested in acts of civil disobedience, and religious leaders stood on the front lines.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the Moral Monday movement, led by North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber II, is uniting a diverse group of faith and secular leaders to push back on many immoral policies, including the Republican-controlled state legislature’s attacks on public education, tax credits for working families, safety net programs and healthcare. It’s no surprise that Moral Mondays has a higher approval rating than lawmakers in the state capitol.
The legislature’s latest scheme – voter suppression — will make undoing the damage more difficult. This week, GOP lawmakers advanced a bill that not only contains discriminatory voter ID requirements, but also scales back voter registration, early voting and access to polling places.
There’s something profoundly unjust about ramming through an unpopular, destructive agenda and then restricting voters’ ability to respond through the democratic process.
It’s no coincidence that North Carolina Republicans are doing this just weeks after five conservative Supreme Court justices struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act. Before that ruling, large parts of the state were subject to federal pre-clearance of changes to voting laws because of the state’s extensive history of disenfranchising African Americans. Now, legislators can get away with laws that are designed to hinder constituencies such as minorities, young people and low-income people from voting.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that extremist politicians across the country are pushing agendas that harm struggling families and are opposed by most Americans. As we gear up for federal debates on immigration reform, healthcare and budget priorities, the Moral Mondays campaign has provided a clear example of how the faith community can stand resolutely for justice.
In other news, check out this story about the growth of religious progressives as the religious right declines!
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It’s outrageous and heartbreaking that George Zimmerman was not held accountable for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin at point-blank range. This injustice affected Americans so deeply because it emblemized numerous intersecting pathologies of our society: a rampant culture of gun violence, inexcusable gun laws, deeply ingrained racism, and the devaluation of young black men’s lives.
At times like this it can be difficult to picture the day when tragedies like Trayvon’s killing no longer occur. But abolition and integration were once considered pipe dreams too, and the largely peaceful nationwide outpouring of grief after Zimmerman’s acquittal is a testament to faith leaders’ power to channel outrage into peaceful action, as Rev. William Barber II did at Moral Monday in North Carolina. While our hearts are troubled, our spirits must remain strong.
Catholic colleges call a path to citizenship ‘moral, urgent, practical’
A new group of influential leaders from the faith community weighed in on the immigration debate today. A press teleconference call this morning organized by Faith in Public Life unveiled a letter signed by 93 Catholic college presidents calling on Catholic members of the House of Representatives – including House Speaker John Boehner – to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a road to earned citizenship. The letter also ran as an ad in today’s print edition of Politico, as well as in targeted online ads. It said in part:
Our broken immigration system, which tears parents from children, traps aspiring Americans in the shadows and undermines the best values of this nation, is morally indefensible.
We hope that as you face intense political pressure from powerful interest groups, you will draw wisdom and moral courage from our shared faith tradition. Catholic teaching values the human dignity and worth of all immigrants, regardless of legal status. We remind you that no human being made in the image of God is illegal.
The letter is signed by nationally prominent Catholic universities such as Notre Dame, Georgetown and the Catholic University of America, as well as many colleges in districts represented by strategically important Republican lawmakers. As House Members weigh whether to support, obstruct or dilute reform that includes a roadmap to citizenship, the chorus of voices calling for a path to citizenship is growing louder.
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