By Mark McDermott, Chair of PSARA’s Education Committee
In September, my wife, Diane, and I traveled to North Carolina to meet with leaders of the “Moral Monday Movement.” We met with Rev. Curtis Gatewood of the state’s NAACP, James Andrew, President of the state AFL-CIO, and Rev. George Reed and Aleta Payne, two top leaders of the North Carolina Council of Churches. We wanted to learn about their broad movement that brought upwards of 80,000 to the steps of their state Capitol in February, the largest progressive rally in the South since 1965. They were demanding economic justice; labor rights; education equality; health care for all; environmental justice; equal protection under the law without regard to race, creed, class, gender, sexual orientation or immigration status; expansion of voting rights; and more. Why the mass organizing?
The people of North Carolina are under siege from an extreme right-wing Republican leadership backed by Corporate North Carolina that has done the following and much more:
- 500,000 denied access to Medicaid
- Repeal of state Earned Income Tax Credit which helps poor working families
- Tens of thousands denied unemployment benefits
- Consumer loan rates shooting up with deregulation
- Thousands of low-income children losing pre-kindergarten education
- Voting rights restrictions which may deny 300,000 the right to vote – disproportionately people of color, seniors, students, and the poor
- Loss of tenure for public school teachers
- Tuition increases of 56% since 2008
At the same time, the wealthy and profitable corporations were given massive tax cuts.
These attacks are not going unchallenged. The Moral Monday Movement is leading a long-term statewide fight against these attacks, but more importantly, is projecting a positive vision of what a just, equitable, moral, and sustainable North Carolina looks like. Since the spring, they have organized 13 statewide and more than 25 local Moral Monday rallies. Their rallying cry is “Forward Together: Not One Step Back.” How has this permanent coalition been built?
In December 2006, Rev. William Barber, chair of the state NAACP, brought leaders from many organizations and movements together with a call to build a permanent statewide coalition across many movements. They were deeply dissatisfied with the failure of the ruling Democratic Party to lead their state forward to a more economically just, equitable, and sustainable future. Within two months they had hammered out a long-term vision and agenda agreed to by 60 organizations. In February 2007, 3,500 rallied at the state Capitol demanding the ruling Democrats take action.
Steady patient coalition-building coupled with grassroots organizing led to a rally of 80,000 in February 2014 with more than 160 organizations in the permanent coalition. The movement’s leadership recognizes that they are in a long-term struggle which requires a permanent coalition that will continue to deepen and broaden their movement.
Our state is very different from North Carolina, but we also see growing injustice. We asked these leaders: What lessons can you share that you think are relevant for our state? Here is what we learned:
- You can’t simply import our model. You have to address the uniqueness of your state.
- Build a transformative long-term diverse coalition with a goal of winning unlikely allies.
- Work from a shared common ground of injustice, discontent, and desire for change.
- Develop a vision anchored in deeply held moral and constitutional values.
- Create unity around a concrete agenda with short-term and long-term demands.
- Pressure the government leaders regardless of their party – this is not partisan politics.
- Understand success is not merely measured by electoral success. It is rooted in meaningful transformational changes.
- Lift up the voices of those who are directly affected by immoral and unjust polices.
- Resist the “One Moment Mentality” – We are building a movement!
- Engage in grassroots organizing across the state.
We asked: “Why the need for a permanent coalition?” We were told that various organizations and movements had a long history of building temporary issue-based coalitions that rose and fell. It became increasingly clear that this approach was not working long-term, despite periodic successes. Building a durable coalition became a major priority and was necessary to sustain their efforts against increased attacks and to fight forward effectively.
These leaders stressed the importance of pressuring both political parties and entrenched corporate power. Democratic rule was yielding unacceptably slow gains and the Coalition was formed to press forward. Six years of building their strength was invaluable with the electoral victory of an extreme right-wing Republican Party in 2012. They were ready to step up their game free of claims that they were shills for the Democrats. They had demonstrated they were the champions of justice, equity, and a better future, making demands on anyone in power who was blocking needed reforms and progress.
The North Carolina model of long-term organizing is worth examining carefully as we try to build more effective political and economic justice organizing in our state. More on this later.