Moral Mondays, Poverty Initiative, and Karios: The Growing Movement to End Poverty

North Carolina Religious and Community Leaders Galvanized by Struggle to Forward a Truly Moral Platform Across Left and Right in Era of Growing Poverty and Inequality.

by John Wessel-McCoy, organizer for the Poverty Initiative

The Poverty Initiative's Willie Baptist giving Moral Monday's leader, Rev. Barber, a Poverty Scholars Pin at December's Kairos launch.

The Poverty Initiative’s Willie Baptist presenting Moral Monday’s leader, Rev. Barber, with a Poverty Scholars Pin during December’s Kairos launch at Union.

“Our preaching and teaching must address the injustices of poverty, domination, inequality, and denial of health care that still impacts our social reality.” – Rev. Dr. William Barber, II

On Monday, December 9, a small delegation from the Poverty Initiative and Kairos Center for Rights, Religions, and Social Justice (Larry Cox, Colleen, John, and Josephine Wessel-McCoy) attended the Moral Mondays / Forward Together Movement briefing in Raleigh, NC. By 10 AM, the fellowship hall of Martin Street Baptist Church was crowded with people from all over the country ready to learn more about Moral Mondays. Rev. Barber called the room to order, and handed things over to Ms. Yara Allen, who led us in song. Together, we lifted our voices singing “O Freedom” and “My Heart is Fixed.” Already we were learning the first lesson from Moral Mondays–the centrality of artistic, cultural, and religious expression rooted in a history of faith and struggle for our movement today.

Early in Monday’s program, Rev. Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, set the moral framework as the foundation of Moral Monday’s work. The Moral Mondays leaders speak in terms of moral imperatives, and firmly ground their vision of justice in faith. The concern for justice – what God requires – is a public matter. As Rev. Barber puts it, “It is not about right or left; it’s about right or wrong.” Their ranks are diverse in terms of race, class, sexuality, and religion. Politically they have not just won liberals and progressives, but conservatives as well. Leaders have emerged out of North Carolina’s urban centers, rural communities, and everything in between.

Pam McMichaels (Director of the Highlander Center) and Carol Burnett (Mississippi Congregations for Children), both Poverty Scholars,  in attendance at the December Moral Monday's briefing.

Pam McMichaels (Director of the Highlander Center) and Carol Burnett (Mississippi Congregations for Children), both Poverty Scholars, in attendance at the December Moral Monday’s briefing.

From the original 17 arrested at the state capital on April 29, 2013 the Moral Mondays arrests have surpassed 900 to date. In a document entitled “Why We Are Here”, Moral Mondays / Moving Forward describes itself as follows: “North Carolinians who choose nonviolent civil disobedience in the face of an avalanche of extremist policies that threaten healthcare, education, voting rights, especially the poor, African-Americans, Latinos, women, seniors and students.”

It is important to emphasize the indigenous character of Moral Mondays. Ironically, its opponents have accused Moral Mondays of being nothing more than the work of “outside agitators”, when in fact it is more accurate to say that the right-wing perpetrators are marching to orders coming from outside the state. And while Rev. Barber has come to be the face of the movement, he is not a lone prophetic voice and the North Carolina NAACP is not the only leading organization. The struggle has gone much further to bring people together. A clear, competent, and committed leadership has emerged from every section of the state.

The political landscape of North Carolina reflects larger realities in the South and the nation at large. Its social makeup is increasingly diverse and dynamic. New waves of immigrants are part of this new reality. Young people do not share many of the views of their elders in terms of social issues. As North Carolina changes, it brings into question the future of “Plantation Politics”, to borrow a concept from W.E.B. Du Bois, where whites are united across class against blacks (a.k.a. the “Solid South”) to the detriment of all but a few.

Yet, it would seem, based on the political power currently dominating state politics, these old divides have not gone away, and in fact, appear to be growing in strength. Today there is a super-majority of Tea Party influenced conservatives occupying the governorship and the state assemblies.

Injustice against the poor is alive and well today in North Carolina. The Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Acts has opened the floodgates in North Carolina to discriminatory voting regulations – local mandates that would have otherwise been restricted by federal oversight. The current state political regime has shored up its power through an obscene and anti-democratic process of gerrymandering districts along racial lines. Public education, workers’ issues, healthcare, and programs for the poor have all been targeted by this extremist government. And the public debate is polarized – framed along racial lines, the deserving versus the undeserving poor, and Big Government versus privatization and free market “solutions. Figures like the North Carolina-based billionaire Art Pope, a scion of the Koch Brothers, bankroll the whole thing on the Right.

What is Moral Mondays fighting for? At one point in the day, leaders described the process of evolving from a resistance movement (a struggle against) to a movement with an alternative vision and a program (a movement for). In their words: “We lifted up five principles that we believed were bigger than Democrat or Republican but good for the whole:

1. Economic sustainability and ending poverty

2. Education equality

3. Healthcare for all

4. Fairness in the criminal justice system

5. Voting Rights”

This December 9 briefing was their first attempt to engage with folks outside of the state, and the focus of the briefing was largely geared towards how people might replicate Moral Mondays back in their states. One gets a sense that, as they struggle to resolve problems in their own state, they don’t quite know what to do with the tremendous enthusiasm they have inspired in people outside of North Carolina. Martin Street Baptist Church’s fellowship hall was filled with people who have found inspiration and are looking for direction from North Carolina. There is only one thing Moral Mondays asked of us in terms of supporting the North Carolina movement. They invited us to come back on February 8, 2014 for a mass mobilization in Raleigh at the state capital. The Kairos Center and Poverty Initiative are eager to be there and hope you can be there, too.

Micah 6:8 “What does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.”

Rev. William Barber at Martin Street Baptist Church.

Rev. William Barber at Martin Street Baptist Church.