Progressives Shaking Things Up in the South: Moral Monday Georgia and Truthful Tuesday South Carolina Commence
Photo Credit: Reid Freeman Jenkins
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This past Monday on a dreary afternoon, more than 500 people gathered in front of the Golden Dome, Georgia’s state capitol building in downtown Atlanta. As they huddled under umbrellas, clutching signs, a booming voice assured them that while the rain may have dampened the turnout, their presence would not go unnoticed.
“All over North Carolina today, we have Georgia on our minds,” Rev. William Barber intoned from a podium at the capitol steps. Rev. Barber heads the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, and on Monday, was an emissary from the state that captivated the nation during its last legislative session.
Last summer, thousands of North Carolinians descended on the capitol in Raleigh week after week, to protest a long list of regressive measures enacted by the Republican-controlled government. More than 900 people were arrested for peacefully occupying the legislative building over the course of what became known as the Moral Monday movement.
Now that movement is spreading. January 13 marked the beginning of the Georgia General Assembly’s legislative session and the first day of Moral Monday Georgia. To ring it in, Barber joined members of the Moral Monday Georgia coalition in calling for “a new Southern strategy.”
The Moral Monday Georgia coalition is comprised of more than 50 labor groups, social justice organizations and churches. They are up against a two-thirds Republican majority in both the State House and Senate, which have a significant Tea Party influence. As recently as last August, the coalition was no more than an idea discussed by housing rights activists as they resisted the wrongful eviction of a Desert Storm veteran in Atlanta.
“We’re starting from scratch,” acknowledges Tim Franzen, an organizer with both the American Friends Service Committee and Occupy Our Homes Atlanta. In contrast, North Carolina’s Moral Monday spawned from eight years of coalition-building.
Franzen says that the members of Moral Monday Georgia are planning at a pace that makes sense, given the project’s relative infancy. He isn’t certain there will be rallies at the capitol every Monday of this session, like there were in Raleigh. So far, the group has planned three weeks into the future.
The goal is to bring people together to impact state policies on a range of issues, and to grow into a statewide movement in connection with similar movements in other Southern states.
In an interview, Franzen explained the southern focus by quoting W.E.B. DuBois’ famous statement, “As the South goes, so goes the nation.” Franzen says that many of the problems plaguing the nation are at their worst in the South. The South must set the precedent for social and economic change in order for the rest of the country to follow suit.
The Moral Monday movement focuses on state budget and policies because, he says, “that is a lot of what the corporations have decided to do over the last 30 years.” Franzen cites model legislation developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council as an example of how corporations and right-wing extremists have spread ultra-conservative policies nationwide by focusing on state-level politics. The Moral Monday vision is to flip the script on ALEC and other right-wing heavyweights by becoming a stronger force on the same turf.
Each Moral Monday Georgia rally will focus on a specific issue. This first inaugural gathering centered on Medicaid expansion. Georgia is one of 21 states that have opted out of expanding Medicaid under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The decision, made by Republican Governor Nathan Deal, denies health coverage to over 600,000 Georgians who would qualify. His reason? The federal government only foots the bill in full for three years. After that, federal funding would be gradually reduced to cover 90 percent of the cost.