Just another Moral Monday

Jun. 20, 2013 @ 04:16 PM

They came from all directions — adults, children, black, white, men and women, all walking the sidewalks of Raleigh on a beautiful summer day. It felt not unlike going to a sporting event or a concert. The crowds, laughing and smiling as they walked, hid their “outside agitator” status well, and they certainly didn’t look like “morons.”

They were folks just like you and me — folks who want a better life for their children and grandchildren, and, yes, themselves.

I attended a recent “Moral Monday” in our state capital looking for answers to some of my questions about these weekly political protests that are making national and international news. Always a bit suspicious of people who claim “morality” is on their side of the equation, I wanted to know who are these people and what do they want? Are they frothing radicals or North Carolinians who want some small bit of justice in the face of the political juggernaut that is steamrolling our state?

Perhaps like me, your expectations for politicians are pretty low. Most of us just hope they do as little damage as possible. Given what has unfolded in Raleigh this past year you can imagine my disappointment with the group presently in power, though it is understandable that if you finally have absolute power it can be intoxicating.

Why, with power like that you could be tempted to try to rig the game through laws that would make it more difficult for your opponent to vote. You might even draw districts in such a way that you will be able to maintain power indefinitely. Or, you might want to control the schools, airports and utilities of local communities from Raleigh because … well, you can. You know better than the local government after all.

It seems to me this inability to listen to constituents is what drives the Moral Monday community. They see the overreach, the power grabs, the willingness to impose the agenda of outsiders like the American Legislative Exchange Council on the state, as part of a legislature that actually hurts people.

I heard doctors explain how turning away Medicaid is going to harm the most vulnerable among us, teachers share how hard it is to fulfill their mission with minimal pay and no respect, environmentalists argue how important it is to not let the corporations poison our water and air in search of quick profits. The people protesting on Halifax Mall do not believe North Carolina should become an extraction economy for those who are powerful enough to hoover up our resources. They think it is immoral for politicians to vote tax breaks for their benefactors.

My conservative friends argue that Democrats did it this way for years, and while there is some truth to that, if you cut through the talking points you find we are being challenged by something unprecedented. It is an attempt to make the state in the image of the most radical ideology on the political spectrum today. The attack on public schools, the environment, voting rights, the poor and vulnerable, the unemployed and a list too numerous to mention, has roused ordinary people to fight back. The Democrats are in such disarray they seem impotent to counter the forces arrayed against the people of North Carolina.

The people attending “Moral Mondays” are not radicals, they are folks like you and me who are speaking out against the powerful taking what they want and cloaking it with appeals to “old-fashioned values” or “the free market.”  They see something unsettling happening in North Carolina and they feel like they must fight back.

Because when the last lake is unable to sustain us because of toxic chemicals, when our public schools have fallen apart because of funding being drained off to feed private schools, when the poor die increasingly from lack of health care, when our sales and personal property taxes soar and someone has to pay for the tax breaks given to the connected and powerful, we will look back and realize that someone tried to warn us.

Those people that we are told to fear or hate—the “outside agitators” and “morons”? They are your neighbors, pastors, coaches, doctors, teachers and friends, and they are on the mall every Monday afternoon and in the jail every Monday night because they love this great state and believe it’s worth fighting for. They are not going away.

Jeffrey C. Pugh, born in Winston-Salem, is a professor of religious studies at Elon University and a resident of Chatham County. He can be reached at pughjeff@elon.edu.