“Announcing the Moral Week of Action: August 22-28!” says the headline on the HKonJ flyer, followed by an invitation to “Join us for seven consecutive days of action and a “Jericho March” at the North Carolina State Capitol to expose and challenge the destructive laws coming out of Raleigh.” It looks exciting; things are happening in North Carolina.
On the left, a schedule of activities lets the reader know what issues are going to be discussed/challenged daily from 8/22 (Labor Rights, Fair and Living Wages and Economic Justice) to 8/28 (Voting Rights: Vote Your Dreams, Not Your Fears Rally).
In between those days, issues will include Education and Criminal Justice, Equal Protection Under the Law, Youth and Women’s Rights, Medicaid Expansion, Heath Care and Environmental Justice.
These are the myriad issues that HKonJ(Historic Thousands on Jones Street) People’s Assembly has taken up in North Carolina, creating a wide tent in which all can feel comfortable.
HKonJ People’s Assembly hit the big time (nationwide) with their Moral Mondays street demonstrations in 2013. People outside of NC, including me, started paying attention. I was fascinated with what they were doing, but I had reservations.
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When I was growing up in Hawaii, about nine or ten years old, my brother Ned came home one day telling the family that during the summer there was a free Daily Vacation Bible School that some of his friends were going to, and he wanted to attend also. “It’s free,” he said.
My mom said, “Well, if it’s free, why not?” My older sister Toki had reservations, but she didn’t overrule Mom.
After a few days of DVBS, Toki asked him, “Did you learn anything today?”
Said Ned, “Well, I learned that there were some bad people in the world.”
“What kind of bad people?” she asked.
“They don’t wear any clothes.”
“They’re bad because they don’t wear any clothes?”
“That’s what teacher said.”
“You are not going back to that school any more.”
And that was final. Toki had spoken.
The words “good,” and “bad,” were used for the little kids, but I knew what that teacher was thinking— “moral,” “immoral” for church folks. And anyone talking about morality and immorality really made me uneasy, even after learning about Freedom Churches, the revolutionary Jesus, and radical theology stuff.
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In North Carolina, the very charismatic Convener of the People’s Assembly, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, appears to be very open, his words very inviting, and his use of “moral” refers more to what I think is “ethical” than a command from God. He makes a good case for a down to earth meaning of morality:
“We’re forcing a new conversation in the public arena that’s not Republican and Democrat, that’s not liberal versus conservative, but really is talking about what’s moral and immoral, what’s extreme and what’s bad policy. We say it like this: ‘It’s constitutionally inconsistent, it’s morally indefensible, and it’s economically insane,’” Rev. Barber said in an interview on Democracy Now!
He’s also wrested control of the word “moral” from the many conservative Christian Churches who have for years used morality as a license for racism, segregation, and disregard and contempt for the rights of any non-white community/individuals.
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The first People’s Assembly, Feb 2007, drew around 3,500 participants; growing steadily to 15,000 in 2013, but then in 2014 exploded to 80,000. Why the sudden spike?
One reason is that the “constitutionally inconsistent, the morally indefensible and the economically insane” had taken control of the 2013 North Carolina legislature (elected in 2012) and passed legislation that sent North Carolina back to Jim Crow days. Important voter gains such as early voting (In the 2008 and 2012 elections, 70% of black voters used early voting) were removed and voters needed to have photo ID (318,000 registered voters don’t have photo ID). Many of the voters do not have cars, so there’s no reason to have a driver’s license, and getting a photo ID to vote was made more difficult.
In addition, gerrymandering after the 2010 election, and the influence of $2 million from one person, Art Pope, into the 2012 election campaign helped Tea Party candidates win a majority in the Governor’s race and State House and Senate races.
As the state legislature increasingly targeted women’s, LGBT, and all civil rights except those of white men, more moderate Republicans became more active in the Moral Mondays. There was no other place to go.
The real staying power of the People’s Assembly will be tested in the coming elections in 2 ½ months. They will need to fight money and voter challenges in court, and rely on turning out the vote. And if they don’t win in 2014, how they respond will also tell us how strong they are. Or we may know by the end of August after their Moral Week of Action.
This is just how Struggle works: Forward Together, Not One Step Back.
How is HKonJ related to what PSARA is doing?
PSARA’s education committee is looking at paths taken by groups in different states trying to establish a permanent coalition to take on corporate America that now controls the oligarchy running our country.
HKonJ is one of those groups, and since groups in other states have asked for advice about building similar movements, HKonJ has a 12-step recommendation “for anyone looking to use the Moral Monday frame in their own communities.”
The basic message of the 12-step plan is: develop an agenda that resonates with your own state, emphasize the moral imperative, and develop homegrown leadership. You can’t import the movement from somewhere else.
Obviously, you need to build a long-term coalition, and the last one of 12 steps is:
12. Resist the “One Moment Mentality”—We are building a movement.
Bob Shimabukuro is Associate Editor of the Retiree Advocate. Mark McDermott is PSARA Education Chair. Both serve on PSARA’s Executive Board.