I'm sure the picture at the top of this post needs no introduction. After all, the so-called "Moral March" this past Saturday in Raleigh, the North Carolina capital, was a landmark event -- the largest protest rally in the American South in 49 years, since Dr. Martin Luther King and the iconic Selma-to-Montgomery march in 1965, which successfully pressured Washington to enact the Voting Rights Act.
What's that? You didn't hear about the "Moral March"? Well, that's possible. I looked for coverage of this fairly significant event on the website of record, NYTimes.com, and didn't see anything significant there or on other major mainstream media sites. Of course, the media barely covered even larger protests against the Iraq War in 2003, so maybe that's not so surprising. Still, the media is ignoring the so-called "Moral Monday" movement in North Carolina at its own peril.
A reversal of a regressive agenda that's been pushed in North Carolina since its government went all Republican in 2012, but which has been echoed i\n other states, even here in Pennsylvania. They want to undo voter ID laws that will undo some of the gains from that 1965 Voting Rights Act, equal rights for gays, lesbians and the transgendered, unfettered reproductive rights for women, the expansion of Medicaid to cover hundreds of thousands without health care, the return of long-term unemployment benefits, a higher minimum wage, and the reversal of tax code changes that harmed the poor and benefited the wealthy.
When do they want it?
That's not to be trite. The fierce urgency of now is the real significance of the "Moral Monday" movement. It's that tens of thousands of people don't want to wait until the next election cycle...they want their voices heard right now. It's in some ways an outgrowth of Occupy and other movements built around the recognition that democracy -- as its practiced in America right now -- has failed to help the middle class, which today lacks the buying power to support institutions like Sears, J.C. Penney or (dare I say it) Red Lobster.
The march drew an estimated 80,000-100,000 people from up and down the East Coast -- at least twice as many folks are the most optimistic organizers had expected. At a given block, it took as much as an hour for all those marchers to make their way past. For a long time it's been hard for organizers of an event like this to get crowds that matched the rallies of the 1960s and early 1970s, and that's understandable. America has faced critical issues over the decades since, but it's hard to match the gross injustices of segregation or the you-or-your-neighbor-might-die-in-a-pointless-war urgency of Vietnam.
But today, a tipping point has been reached. As dire as the nickle-and-diming of the working class has become, as dire as the lack of well-paying jobs, or affordable health care or higher education has gotten, it's been hard to find a common "brand," if you will, for these diverse and overlapping causes. Credit the Rev. William Barber, the dynamic leader of the North Carolina NAACP, for coming up with the theme of morality. Because it is immoral to pay workers so little that they require food stamps to eat, to have a system where citizens can be bankrupted by a medical bill, or to roll back the fundamental right to vote.
And yet some people in this country cling to a warped idea of what morality means. It was interesting -- if sad -- to see this on the eve of the North Carolina march:
"It is immoral."
That was the judgment of Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican and committee chairman, on the House floor this week. But the subject of his sermon wasn't the Assad regime in Syria or human trafficking. What Sessions found immoral was the repugnant notion that the government would help Americans who lost their jobs and are looking for work.
Sessions was preaching in response to Democrats' pleas that the Republican majority hold a vote on restoring unemployment-insurance benefits to the 1.7 million who have lost them since the benefits expired six weeks ago and the 70,000 or so who are losing them each week. Sessions, on the floor to usher through the House "sportsmen's heritage and recreational enhancement" legislation, explained why he wouldn't bring up jobless benefits: "I believe it is immoral for this country to have as a policy extending long-term unemployment to people rather than us working on creation of jobs."
Let's ignore, for the time being, that Republicans in the House and the Senate have done nothing meaningful on job creation since the 2008 financial crisis...
These are the stakes. The ever-shrinking conservative minority is this country is going to fight -- especially in the statehouses where they've retained control -- for their warped notions of "morality," for restricting the rights of gays to marry, of women to control their own bodies, of minorities, and the old and the young to easily cast a ballot. They'll go to the mat for a notion of "morality" that rewards -- with more tax breaks -- the billionaire job creators who never seem to create any jobs, while branding those who struggle day in and day out to find work as lazy, or "moochers."
But in North Carolina, they marched for the real thing.