Duke, UNC scholars highlight statewide impact of Moral Mondays

Sep. 19, 2013 @ 08:55 PM

Nancy Brown from Chatham County said Moral Mondays have renewed her desire to give part of herself to a cause. Vicki Boyer from Carrboro said her network of activist friends has expanded through becoming a Moral Monday regular.

Five professors from Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill sat on a panel Thursday evening at UNC’s FedEx Global Education Center to discuss Moral Mondays as North Carolina’s new social movement. The talk was organized by Scholars for North Carolina’s Future.

The Moral Monday movement, which is spreading across the state, takes a stand against N.C. General Assembly decision-making and legislation that has impacted Medicaid and reproductive rights to voting rights and education.

The auditorium was filled with about 175 people. Two-thirds of the crowd had attended a Moral Monday. About 30 people had been arrested during the peaceful protest. Toward the end of the discussion, the audience began to chant, “Forward together, not one step back!”

“As just a regular old country girl, it changes you,” said Brown, a member of the audience. “I mean it really changes you. I’m an atheist, but it really changes me. The amount of hope and love that I have available for this movement and other people is bigger and better than it ever was, and I’ve done some pretty damn good things in my life.”

Boyer, another audience participant, said she attended one of the first Moral Mondays and now has fostered friendships across the state. The important thing is reminding people that they’re not alone in this fight, she said.

“Now they know they’re not, and that gives them more courage and fortitude to stand up and say, wait a minute, my voice needs to be heard, too,” Boyer said. “I can’t tell you how many new connections I have made in the last 3 months.”

According to studies of protests over the past few decades, said UNC sociology professor Andy Andrews, most movements have been small, fleeting and register no public impact.

But Moral Monday has been able to sustain participation and even grow into different counties, as well as gather national media attention, Andrews said, and the healthy future of Moral Monday will rely on sustaining strong activist networks and organizations throughout the state.

UNC history professor Jacquelyn Hall, who was arrested during one of the Moral Mondays, said it is the modern, reinvented civil rights movement. The difference is this movement not only relies on female leadership, it recognizes female leadership, unlike the stance in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

“Coalitions are hard work, and we know from the past that they’re strongest when they’re most inclusive and when women’s leadership counts and their voices are heard,” Hall said.

Dr. Charles van der Horst, a professor of medicine at UNC’s School of Medicine, also was arrested during Moral Monday. He recognized the students who were getting arrested, even though the act might tarnish their “record.”

“Why can’t an old white Jew do the same thing?” he said of his own activism. “These folks (in the N.C. General Assembly), they’re fiscally nutty, they’re immoral and harming my patients, the citizens of North Carolina, and they’ve touched the third rail, voting rights.”

Willie Jennings, a Duke theology and black church studies associate professor, called upon a 1961 Martin Luther King Jr. speech to describe the feeling behind Moral Mondays.

“His argument was quite simple, but profound,” Jennings said of MLK’s rallying speech for civil disobedience. “...Unjust laws increase suffering and silence voices.”

Duke history and public policy professor Nancy MacLean asked the audience if they thought these legislative changes were a response to the homegrown needs of North Carolinians.

The audience responded with a resounding no.

These legislators are putting property rights ahead of social justice, MacLean said. “They see this destruction as the cost of weaning people off the reliance of government.”

The panel took questions at the end of their speeches. How bad is this thing? an audience member asked. How do we get people to realize there’s no data behind certain political statements? asked another.

A representative of Students for a Democratic Society asked how students can keep a coalition going, to not only continue to participate in Moral Mondays but also speak out against the legislative changes.

Reach out to different campus groups, van der Horst said. Reach out to black students, Hispanic students, gay students.

“Talk about the commonality and help them realize divided we stand, united we fall,” he said.