‘It’s time for another fight.’ Barber and Moral Monday protesters return to NC Capitol
BY MARTHA QUILLIN UPDATED APRIL 25, 2023 11:56 AM
RALEIGH Protesters’ chants rang through downtown Raleigh Monday evening like echoes from a decade past as several hundred gathered to answer the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber’s renewed call to “stand up, fight back.” The rally that began on the south lawn of the N.C. State Capitol Building and ended outside the locked gates at the State Legislative Building commemorated the 10-year anniversary of the “Moral Monday” campaign. It also served as an unofficial launch to what Barber promised would be a concerted effort to motivate poor people, women, immigrants and others to vote in the 2024 election.
“The forces that profit from racial division and class division and deprivation, they do not rest,” Barber told the crowd, explaining why he felt they must rededicate themselves to the work that spawned a movement across the nation. His beard was much grayer than in 2013, but Barber’s voice was undiminished as he took the stage, offering a short history lesson on how Moral Mondays got started, what they helped accomplish and why he believes the outrage that drove them should bring people into the streets again. More than 300 people attended Monday’s event, some of them from other parts of the state. The original plan was to march inside the Legislative Building, but lawmakers had no votes scheduled on Monday and police closed the gate at the front entrance and stood guard behind it to dissuade protesters from going over it.
“We have fought and we have won because we came together in a fusion movement across lines of difference,” Barber said in a news release ahead of the event. “Monday is the 10-year anniversary of our moral movement, but we won’t just commemorate. Instead, we will rededicate ourselves to the fight for a Third Reconstruction to make America the democracy it has never truly been.” Barber is president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach, and is co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call For Moral Revival. Last year he was named founding director of the Center for Public Theology and Public Policy at Yale Divinity School.
THE ORIGINS OF MORAL MONDAY Barber and his supporters began organizing in 2006, when North Carolina government was dominated by Democrats. But their work gained momentum in 2013, after Republicans had acquired a majority in the House and Senate and Republican Pat McCrory was elected governor. That year, legislators began a period of rapid-fire lawmaking that Barber called “regressive” and “extremist,” including cutting education funding and unemployment benefits, opting out of Medicaid expansion, restricting abortion rights, limiting voter access and relaxing environmental protections. Lawmakes also passed House Bill 2, known as “the bathroom bill,” which required people to use the public bathrooms that corresponded to the gender on their birth certificates. Lawmakers’ decisions disproportionately affected poor people, women, LGBTQ people, immigrants, minorities and the uninsured, Barber and others said. Barber said 17 people went to the Legislature to protest the first time, but the movement grew through the summer of 2013, until thousands of people joined the protests. Over 13 Moral Monday events, there were nearly 1,000 arrests, mostly of people who refused to leave when ordered to. Eventually, HB2 would be repealed; the voting rights restrictions would be ruled unlawful by a federal court; and McCrory would lose his bid for reelection. Rev. William J. Barber II leads a rally outside the North Carolina Legislative Building during a Moral Monday march and rally at the State Capitol and the state legislature Monday, April 24, 2023.
A MODEL FOR OTHER PROTESTS Moral Mondays became a model in civil disobedience for activists in other states across the country. Monday night, Barber reminded the crowd that Moral Mondays were designed to be non-violent, and said a security team had removed three people from the event for bringing firearms. The only weapons needed, he said, “are truth and justice and love.” Barber reiterated the Poor People’s Campaign’s push against its key targets: systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, limited access to health care, a war economy and the myth of white Christian nationalism. “Moral Mondays have never stopped,” Barber told the crowd. “But I must tell you, my sisters and brothers, our work has just begun. And if you thought we fought hard in 2013, you ain’t seen nothing yet. “It’s time for another fight.” Catherine Holcombe of Greensboro said she’s ready for one. Holcombe was one of those arrested in 2013 because she said lawmakers needed to respond to their citizens. She came to Raleigh Monday night because, she said, “It’s even worse now.” Holcombe, a member of the League of Women Voters, said legislators need to spend less time on regulating transgender people and drag queens and more on preventing gun deaths, increasing affordable housing, supporting public education, improving access to health care and attracting jobs that pay living wages. Hearing Barber and other speakers Monday, Holcombe said, “I was inspired again. We have to go back to our communities and do something, even if it’s just to sign a petition. And vote.”