Last year, the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina boldly confronted the extremist agenda set forth by the state’s governor and legislature and completely transformed the political conversation in the Tar Heel state and across the country.
This week, they got back to work.
On Monday morning, clergy and laypeople led by Rev. William Barber II returned to the state capitol in Raleigh to resume the campaign to defeat policies that restrict voting rights and devastate struggling families. Hundreds marched quietly with their mouths taped shut to protest the legislature’s use of obscure rules to clamp down on protesters’ ability assemble at the statehouse. This kind of political maneuvering shows just how scared these politicians are – for good reason.
As the 2014 elections approach, the force of the Moral Mondays movement only promises to grow. At the Moral March that brought 80,000 to Raleigh earlier this year, Rev. Barber brought the crowd to a peak when he said “we will pray, we will get off of our knees and work, we will speak truth to power…and we will voter like never before!”
This fall, the eyes of the nation will be on a handful of US Senate and gubernatorial races where issues like Medicaid expansion will weigh heavily on voters’ consciences. No political ad or stump speech can shape the debate and speak truth to our better angels like a faith-led mass movement.
Forward together . . . not one step back!
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The results on election day once again showed voters’ commitment to progressive priorities like health care and better wages that strengthen families.
In Virginia, one of the key differences between Ken Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe was their disagreement over health care. Cuccinelli, who flaunted his pro-life credentials and “family values,” nonetheless took an anti-family position by opposing Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid even though it would provide 400,000 currently uninsured Virginians access to affordable coverage. Voters backed McAuliffe, who supports Medicaid expansion, while rejecting Cuccinelli’s immoral agenda – meaning that struggling families, seniors and children in Virginia will get the care they need.
In New Jersey, voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 per hour and indexing it to inflation. This not only helps hardworking, low-income families make ends meet, but also shows that Governor Chris Christie’s re-election doesn’t signal a turn toward economic conservatism among Garden State voters. And while Christie is no moderate, he accepted Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid. In Election Day’s two statewide races, Tea Party extremists have nothing to celebrate – but the working poor do.
Campaigns to raise the minimum wage are gaining steam at the local, state and federal levels, and increasing the minimum wage is overwhelmingly popular with people of faith, from traditionally progressive traditions to more right-leaning groups such as white evangelicals. This will be a major issue between now and the 2014 elections, and faith leaders are part of coalitions in numerous states. Given that a single parent of two children working fulltime at minimum wage falls $4,000 beneath the poverty line, this is very much a family values issue, as well as a matter of justice.
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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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Religious leaders and activists made an important impact on yesterday’s Democratic primary in Massachusetts for Secretary of State John Kerry’s Senate seat.
There was one major difference between candidates Rep. Stephen Lynch and Rep. Ed Markey – Lynch initially favored construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and Markey steadfastly opposed it.
In case you’re just joining us, the debate over the Keystone XL Pipeline has global consequences. If the pipeline is completed, vast Canadian reserves of dirty tar sands oil will hit the international market at a time when we need to be drastically reducing our use of fossil fuels in order to curb the most catastrophic effects of the climate change crisis. And that’s to say nothing of the inevitable toxic spills that will happen along the route from northern Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.
Lynch’s early support for this disastrous project sparked a strong response from local and national faith leaders. The evangelical-led Good Steward Campaign joined forces with Catholics United, Sojourners, American Values Network, Interfaith Power and Light, 350.org and local nuns and activists to organize opposition, gather tens of thousands of petition signatures and publicly speak out against the pipeline. Lynch (who ultimately lost anyway) subsequently walked back his support for this environmentally catastrophic pipeline.
Keystone in particular, and climate in general, are flying somewhat under the radar right now but will take center stage sooner or later. The fact that faith leaders are gearing up and speaking out now bodes well as the debate goes forward.
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