HKonJ banner (Historic Thousands on Jones Street) carried by marchers
at the Moral March on Raleigh, Feb 8 2014. Photo: Resa Sunshine
The banner that read "HKonJ" (Historic Thousands on Jones Street) represented the organizing and work of a coalition formed in North Carolina in 2006, but it is the second line on that banner I'm going to talk about today.
"This is a movement, NOT a moment!"
Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC had coverage. I appreciated that she reported live from NC on the Moral Monday Movement back in 2013. Here was her coverage of last Saturday's march:
Ari Berman of The Nation, who Harris-Perry gets a live report from, is followed by a panel discussion in which he makes a key point:
No one is fighting for one issue—everyone is fighting for each others' issue—so people interested in women's rights are fighting for voting rights, people interested in voting rights are fighting for worker's rights. And there is a realization, I think, finally in the progressive community that all these things are related—that you can't just have single issue advocacy— that it has to be this multi-racial, multi-issue coalition. That's how you are going to succeed, because that really creates the groundwork to fight the legislature on so many fronts.
Remember—North Carolina didn't pass just one bad policy—they passed dozens of bad policies—and that's why you had to have this broad-based coalition emerge to fight it.
The list of coalition partners
is a long one.
People representing that broad-based coalition addressed the crowd gathered at the march.
There were faith leaders—Christian, Jewish and Muslim. There were young people, who spoke of activism, police murders of youth and immigration reform. An educator spoke about the state of of the schools, and health care advocates addressed the need to expand, not cut benefits of North Carolina citizens. Union organizers spoke to the issues of worker's rights, and the head of the legal redress team pointed to the buildings they were in front of where the battle for justice is being waged by 120 lawyers. The last speaker was Rev. Dr. William Barber who exhorted the crowd to move to a "higher ground."
This graphic illustrates clearly the issues being addressed by the movement:
• Secure pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that insure economic sustainability;
• Provide well-funded, quality public education for all;
• Stand up for the health of every North Carolinian by promoting health care access and environmental justice across all the state's communities;
• Address the continuing inequalities in the criminal justice system and ensure equality under the law for every person, regardless of race, class, creed, documentation or sexual preference;
• Protect and expand voting rights for people of color, women, immigrants, the elderly and students to safeguard fair democratic representation.
The Coalition also has a 14 point People's Agenda
with action steps.
Marches and rallies like the one last Saturday serve a purpose which is not only inspirational, but also spreads the word to other people who may not yet be engaged. The real work of a movement takes place in hardcore, daily grassroots organizing—person to person, door-to-door, neighbor to neighbor.
No matter how much press you get (or don't get, since the national media coverage of this massive march was skimpy at best) or how many bloggers spread the word, success depends on putting in the footwork. I'm fond of saying that progressive change will be "slogged not blogged" and a key step in all of this was the announcement that next summer will be "Freedom Summer 2014." The coalition has put out the call to initiate a massive voter registration drive in North Carolina.
For those of us of a certain age who have been activists for 50 years or more, or who know U.S. civil rights history, the words "Freedom Summer" will evoke both pain and the pride of accomplishment. In "Mississippi Turning" Meteor Blades wrote about his participation in that historic summer voter registration drive in 1964.
In order to understand why calling for a Freedom Summer this year in North Carolina is just more than symbolic, let's revisit that time, 50 years ago.
Meet Bob Moses, full name Robert Parris Moses, the lead organizer in Mississippi for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC—pronounced "snick"), probably one of the most important people in the movement you rarely hear about. And that's by his choice, since Moses subscribed to bottom-up, collective leadership, following a model he got from SNCC mentor Ella Baker.
Interviews with Moses are rare, and we are lucky to be able to hear him tell the story of Freedom Summer because of the work of the National Visionary Leadership Project (NVLP) and their archives.
In the 1960s, Mr. Moses was a pivotal organizer for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), directing its Mississippi Project. He was a driving force behind the 1964 Summer Project and in organizing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), which challenged the Mississippi regulars at the 1964 Democratic Convention.
I've selected three clips from interviews conducted by Renee Poussaint
with Moses dealing directly with the summer of freedom.
No transcripts are available online, but they do exist at the Library of Congress.
You listen to Moses describe the conditions that summer, stating that "SNCC was permitted to go in and organize, terrorists were permitted to beat them up and shoot them and then the Justice Department had the right to get them out of jail." The use of the term terrorists is not hyperbole. Though many people know the story of the death of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael "Mickey" Schwerner that summer, or of Viola Liuzzo, it is sobering to remember that there are names of those who weremartyrs who died, who are often overlooked, though they are remembered in the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.
Moses talks about Herbert Lee, who worked with him to help register black voters, who was killed on September 25, 1961, in Liberty, Mississippi, by a state legislator, "who claimed self-defense and was never arrested," and of Louis Allen, murdered January 31, 1964, in Liberty, "who witnessed the murder of civil rights worker Herbert Lee, endured years of threats, jailings, and harassment. He was making final arrangements to move north on the day he was killed."
Let us not forget those other students and participants from the North.
In what was called the "Freedom Summer" of 1964, more than 800 volunteers, most of them college students, gathered at the Western College for Women (now Western Campus of Miami University) to prepare for African-American voter registration in the South. Three of the volunteers - James Chaney of Mississippi, and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner of New York - disappeared on June 21, 1964, in rural Mississippi mere days after leaving Oxford, Ohio. Their bodies were discovered forty-four days later, buried in an earthen dam. Ku Klux Klan members were later convicted on federal conspiracy charges. Erected in 1999, this outdoor amphitheater is a memorial to the slain activists, other volunteers, and ideals of the Freedom Summer movement.
From my perspective as an activist and teacher I have never been comfortable with the way the Civil Rights Movement is taught. Instead of a connected series of waves, beginning with the fight to end black enslavement, flowing into reconstruction with an ebb and flow of movement forward, including some temporary setbacks, somehow finite timelines have circumscribed the "civil rights movement" into the years 1955–68.
I far prefer Rev. Dr. William Barber's historical discourse on reconstructions and voting rights.
I am also perturbed when students say to me "Oh, Denise, you were so lucky to have lived in those times of the movement ... we don't have one." Somehow, some of them have bought the meme that young people today are disengaged, apathetic, and there is no "movement" to be a part of. Others think we won our victories, and that we now live in a colorblind society because we elected a black president. They seem to believe we are no longer under attack. There are even voices from some segments of the Left telling them that voting is useless and pointless.
I take umbrage at this. No way in hell am I going to accept that those who died for the movement, fought for the movement and still struggle in that movement should be pushed aside and buried. My right to vote was paid for in blood.
At the top of my list is the attack on our voting rights, since without the vote, there will be little hope of reversing the gains made by the forces of the reactionary Right, and pushing forward.
So now the call for engagement and action is out there. Let us pick up the banner from the past and move it ahead.
And our elders will lead us.
92 year old Mrs Rosanell Eaton, on stage with
Dr. Rev. William Barber at the Moral March on Raleigh,
Feb 8, 2014 Photo: Resa Sunshine
I was moved to see in person one of my "sheroes" Mrs. Rosanell Eaton
. You can meet her and greet her on her Facebook page
She represents many older people who will face difficulties if the voter repression ID law remains on the books, not just in North Carolina, but in other states with the same ugly agenda—to make it more difficult or impossible for us to vote.
Robert Kuttner wrote recently about the need for a new Freedom Summer voting drive:
The new forms of voting suppression are being challenged under the more general and still extant Section two of the 1965 Act. But that sort of litigation takes time and the results are often inconclusive. In the meantime, great damage is done.
One such barrier is the demand for photo I.D. cards as proof of identity. The premise that this form of identity is needed to prevent voter fraud is itself fraudulent, because nobody has shown any evidence of widespread voting fraud. Yet since 2011, voter ID card laws have been passed by Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
To the well-educated elite, which is accustomed to flashing passports and drivers licenses, it seems improbable that a photo ID card requirement could truly function as a barrier to voting. But millions of very poor people don't have drivers licenses or passports, and getting a photo ID is one more hassle in a stressed-out life. According the Brennan Center, as many as 11 percent of eligible voters do not have government-issued ID, and most of them are minority, poor, or elderly.
He went on to say:
What we need is a new Freedom Summer 2014, half a century after the original. If the forces of reaction are demanding photo ID cards, let's just go door to door and make sure that every eligible voter gets one. In the process, we can remind people why the right to vote in a democracy is precious, why it can make a difference. We can turn ID cards into a badge of active citizenship, and turn the politics of voter suppression on its head.
Well the time has come, and though no longer a youngster at 66, my plans are to head south to North Carolina this summer to help. Freedom Summer 2014 will be an opportunity to learn to organize, to register, educate and engage voters. If 92-year-old Mrs. Rosanell Eaton could register more than 4,000 voters
, just imagine what an army of younger volunteers will be able to accomplish.
I'm excited watching the Moral Monday movement spread to other states like South Carolina—where it is "Truthful Tuesday," Georgia and Alabama. There is a call for one in Arizona. We even have one in New York.
There are other events being held around Freedom Summer. Civil Rights Movement Veterans will be holding a Mississippi Freedom Summer 50th Anniversary Conference in Jackson.
If you want to make a difference and get involved with the groundwork in North Carolina make sure you are connected to the NC NAACP, and stay tuned to Daily Kos, where we will be posting the plans for Moral Freedom Summer NC.
Many of you will not be able to participate in person, and are engaged in struggles in your own states, but you can help fund the massive effort in North Carolina by donating what you can to the NC NAACP.
Cultural activist, songtalker and civil rights veteran Bernice Johnson Reagon implores us to "Give Your Hands to Stuggle."
Reagon wrote: “Whenever Septima Clark would talk about her battles for freedom she would speak about the necessity to continue always in a state of struggle, without struggle there is no friction, there is no movement, there is no life and no future.”
Give your hands and heart to the movement, not just the moment, and we will move forward, together.
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