Thousands Turnout for ‘Moral March on Raleigh’
By Debora Timms
JOMC Journal Contributor
Organizers expected between 20,000 and 30,000 marchers, but the North Carolina NAACP estimates between 80,000 to 100,000 turned out for Saturday’s “Moral March on Raleigh.”
Protestors blanketed the streets like “a quilt of many colors, faiths, and creeds.” Their presence was illustrated by the many banners and signs they carried. Although each was there to represent a range of different causes and ideas, protesters came together with a common purpose – to protest North Carolina legislative decisions which the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II categorizes as “mighty low.”
Before the march, pastors led a prayer service at the State Capitol and rabbis led Shabbat services in the Shaw University Chapel. The program for the Shabbat worship explained that a central idea of Jewish identity is the cal for “tikkun olam” – repairing our shattered world. Rabbi Ari Margolis of Temple Beth Or in Raleigh related this to the march saying,
“The fate of all time depends on a single moment. This is our moment.” It was a sentiment echoed throughout the day by speakers including Barber who went even further, exhorting marchers at the end of the day that this is “not just a moment, it’s a movement.”
Among the crowd, groups large and small represented their causes. They tried to raise awareness by passing out flyers and circulating petitions. Ronda Gordon, a school social worker in Forsyth County was part of a large contingent of educators who wore “red for ed.” She was seeking to raise support of teachers “decline to sign” campaign. “It is important to raise awareness now,” she said, to prevent the layoff of school social workers in Guilford County, like those that have already occurred elsewhere in the state.
Marcher Rafael Mendiola, 18, carried a sign supporting teacher pay. A student at Jordan High School in Durham, he came to Raleigh for his teacher, Mrs. Ashworth, to “march on her behalf.”
Speakers fired up the crowds before the march, maybe none more so than 92-year-old Rosanell Eaton. Barber named her, along with Carolyn Q. Coleman and Mary Perry, as honorary marshals of the march. Eaton was one of hundreds arrested during Moral Monday protests in 2013. Her cries of “Fed up! Fired up!” were echoed back by the crowd.
Many of those marching sported pink to support Planned Parenthood and women’s health issues. They chanted as they marched, “When women’s rights are under attack what do we do? Stand up, fight back.”
The morning’s weather started out bleak and cold, but predictions for rain never eventuated. The Rev. Nelson Johnson of Greensboro noted it had turned out to be a “nice day to struggle for our freedom” and by program’s end Barber enthused “even the universe is blessing us” as the sun finally broke through the clouds.
The Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) coalition, so named because that is where the NC legislature is, organized the event. Founded in 2007, the coalition is made up of representatives from 125 branches and chapters statewide of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as well as members and friends from more than 160 other social justice organizations. Leaders and members from many of these groups took to the stage to tell those assembled conviction and fiery passion why they were there to march.
Recent UNC Chapel Hill graduate Ivanna Gonzalez said she was there to speak for workers’ rights. She spoke of the groundspeople she saw at school, undervalued and underpaid, who were being denied the right to join together and collectively bargain with the state.
Manzor Cheema stood on the stage for Muslims for Social Justice. He said he was glad the movement was “taking the word ‘moral’ away from the right and giving it back to the progressive people.”
Dr. Charles van der Horst of the UNC School of Medicine came with hundreds of fellow health professionals. They marched, he told the crowd, for the half million uninsured North Carolinians being denied coverage because of the states refusal to expand Medicaid. He stated between 1,000 and 3,000 unnecessary deaths may result because those uninsured may delay treatment.
This point was made personal by the director of non-profit WNC Health Advocates, Leslie Boyd. Her son, she shared, died before the introduction of the Affordable Care Act because he lacked access to health care. “I can’t bring back my son back … We need to expand Medicaid because 2,800 human lives are at stake. I will fight. You can’t sit back and allow 2,800 people to die every year and call yourself pro-life. It does not work that way.”
NAACP National Board Secretary, Carolyn Q. Coleman, provided a historical perspective on the fight for civil rights and equality, from the marches in Selma to the death of Medgar Evers. This was touched upon further as Barber came to the stage. He mentioned the recent death of Franklin McCain, one of the “Greensboro Four” and a close friend. He spoke of the movement those four started at the Woolworth’s lunch counter back in 1960 and how their fight for social justice still continues today in North Carolina.
Barber recited what the HKonJ coalition call the five fundamental demands, including greater economic equality, quality public education and quality healthcare for all.
These are high standards to reach. But, Barber said, these are the standards laid out for us in the Bible. They are the standards given to us by Jesus. They are the standards the framers of the U.S. Constitution had in mind and the standards set 146 years ago when the State Constitution of North Carolina was adopted to ensure that “All political power … all government … is instituted solely for the good of the whole.”
Barber accused too many in government of choosing to act “mighty low” by refusing to expand Medicaid; “mighty low” by raising taxes on the poor; “mighty low” to cut education spending so much that North Carolina is now 48th in the nation in per student expenditure. He called out those whose bumper stickers and banners say “God Bless America” but then neglect to fulfill their obligation to bless God in the way that they treat their brothers and sisters.
“We are black, white, Latino, Native American,” said Barber. “We are Democrat, Republican, independent. We are people of all faiths, and people not of faith but who believe in a moral universe. We are natives and immigrants, business leaders and workers and unemployed, doctors and the uninsured, gay and straight, students and parents and retirees. We are North Carolina. We are here and we ain’t (sic) going nowhere.”
Barber returned once more to the idea of lifting up – reaching toward those higher standards; seeking to reach a higher ground. He asked the crowd if he could be a preacher for just a little while. Before the streets filled with the sound of Stevie Wonder singing “Higher Ground,” Barber preached. “Lord, Lord plant our minds on higher ground. Plant our hearts on higher ground. Plant our souls on higher ground. Lord, lift us up, lift us up, lift us up and let us stand. Plant our feet on higher ground.”