Is Moral Monday the Tortoise and Occupy the Hare?

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The Moral Monday protests have developed from years of coalition building by the NC NAACP

If you haven’t heard of the Moral Monday Movement, stay tuned. One year ago, on April 29, 2013, 17 people, including ministers, academics and workers, were arrested in the North Carolina legislative building in Raleigh. The 2012 general election ushered in a conservative take-over and super majority of the North Carolina General Assembly and a new Republican governor, resulting in a deluge of legislation that curtailed voting rights, refused federal Medicaid and unemployment funds, and restricted reproductive health services. A broad coalition of organizations responded with non-violent civil disobedience at the capital with weekly Moral Monday protests, which are led by the state’s chapter of the NAACP. The initial 17 arrested grew into about 1000 by the end of the summer’s legislative session, and thousands showed up for each protest. Moral Monday has not only grown and spread throughout the state to other North Carolina cities but also to other states, such as Georgia and South Carolina.

On this one year anniversary of the Moral Monday movement, I can’t help but think back on the first anniversary of Occupy Oakland, in particular, and Occupy Wall Street, in general. Both Moral Monday and Occupy directly challenged social class inequality and their ties to corporate America. Yet they are different – one survived and thrived and the other, well, had a boom and bust (though is not completely dead).

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Banner from the first anniversary of Occupy Oakland

I observed both movements. Occupy Oakland (and Occupy Cal) were in my backyard, and I often went to general assemblies, the general strike and the Oakland Children’s village. In North Carolina, I had been studying many of the organizations involved in the Moral Monday movement, as part of my doctoral research on social movements, social media and social class. I also went to local North Carolina Occupy protests in Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Durham. And I happened to get arrested while videotaping an Occupy protest in North Carolina, as well, along with activists who would also participate in Moral Monday. In fact, Occupy Durham also coordinated an event with a local NAACP chapter, which is part of the lead organization for Moral Monday.

When I went to the one-year anniversary of Occupy Oakland on October 10, 2012, a small group met at Snow Park on Lake Merritt for food and a birthday cake. Then we marched downtown to Oscar Grant plaza, the site of the former encampments and where a hundred or so people were gathered. Rather than ushering in a growing movement after a year, the most notable part of the event was a racist troll being chased by protesters. I am not, however, arguing that Occupy has had no impact on politics. Many alliances were formed and people were motivated to get involved. And I wrote here about how California Occupy movements, with the leadership of a strong student movement, helped boost educational funding in the state.

However, the reality is that the movement formerly known as Occupy is no more, but its influence on the political debate around inequality continues.

There are many similarities between Moral Monday and Occupy: economic platforms that fight corporate control over politics, movements that spread to other cities, and the takeover of public spaces to protest inequality.

But the differences are just as stark as the similarities. First, Moral Monday is both broader and deeper than divisions between the 1% and the 99%. While people participated in Occupy for a variety of reasons, the focus was on Wall Street’s power while muting class and race differences among the 99%. Moral Monday, on the other hand, has leadership and broad participation by African-Americans, as well as from working class communities and the growing Latino population in the state. The NC NAACP and affiliated organizations have mobilized around very specific and tangible pieces of legislation that have targeted these marginalized communities. In fact, Moral Monday specifically responds to the legislative session and the bills coming down the pipeline. Yet Moral Monday is also about more than lobbying North Carolina legislators. They also are building a locally-based grassroots movement that connects their issues to Wall Street, D.C., and other centers of corporate power.

But Moral Monday was not simply in response to conservative institutions, including the Tea Party, which swept Republicans into power. This movement had been building up over the past decade through the HKonJ Coalition, which consists of the same network of groups that have participated in Moral Monday and have been led by the NAACP and its president, Reverend Dr. William J. Barber. So another difference with Occupy is that the Moral Monday movement’s momentum has been slower. The Occupy movement was like a blockbuster opening week-end while the Moral Monday movement has been a sleeper. The spread and diffusion of these protests were much slower than the Occupy movement. Why?

Face-to-face organizing, not simply social media, diffused Moral Monday to bring people together from across the state. Yes, a traditional old-school organization, the NC NAACP, built coalitions, held meetings, and organized events, which spawned this historical movement. Still, this was a new strategy for the NC NAACP this past decade, after Barber, a populist, charismatic and down-to-earth minister from Goldsboro won the presidency and shook up this 100 year old civil rights organization. Since then, the NC NAACP has slowly built a grassroots movement by radicalizing the chapters on-the-ground around questions of race, class, gender and sexual orientation. Even when Moral Monday took off across the state, they responded with a county-based tour across the state in local churches.

When I first learned of Moral Monday last spring, I was intrigued. Risking arrest is not new for activists in this southern state that birthed the civil rights sit-in-movement, but state repression had made civil disobedience pretty much non-existent outside of college campuses since the 1979 Greensboro Massacre, when the KKK, in questionable cahoots with the FBI, opened fire and killed five anti-racist and pro-labor protesters. With Moral Monday, something had shifted in the willingness to face arrest. What was motivating this shift in tactics? Certainly, the onslaught of conservative legislation triggered this type of risk, and the foundation of the civil rights movement is ever present – and was certainly prominent in Moral Monday speeches, and the solidarity of a broad-spectrum of organizations and arrestees explains the risk. But something else also inspired these arrests and occupations of the legislative building: Occupy.

Note: the Moral Monday movement is hiring *50* interns for their freedom summer before they kick-off their protests on May 19, 2014.

3 Comments

Filed under Daily Disruption

3 responses to “Is Moral Monday the Tortoise and Occupy the Hare?

  1. Pingback: Is Moral Monday the Tortoise and Occupy the Hare? | Jen Schradie

  2. Occupy was symbolic politics at its best and most inefficient. For it to last, it would have required the dirty work of community organizing. Instead, Occupy turned into a charivari, whose intent was to be ephemeral; a moment, rather than a movement. And it allowed itself to become preoccupied with publicity generating skirmishes with the police and fell in love with itself.

  3. Laurel Ashton

    Thanks for this inspiring article! I would make one change – Rev. Barber isn’t so much a populist as he is a fusionist. Rather than believing that we are all the same and can come together against a common enemy (the wealthy, the oligarchy, etc.), he uplifts the many systems of oppression/privilege that make us different and not only does he believe we can still unite, but that we must address these differences in order to do so (not without some hard work). If you are still in NC, I hope you can come to the 9th annual Moral March on Raleigh on Feb. 14th.

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