This Weekend's March in North Carolina May Be the Start of Something Huge
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Nearly 100,000 people took to the streets in Raleigh, North Carolina on February 8 in a Moral March to say "No!" to the state's sharp right-wing political turn and "Yes!" to a new, truly progressive America.
They weren't just marching for one issue or another. They were marching for every issue progressives care about: economic justice; a living wage for every worker; support for organized labor; justice in banking and lending; high quality, well-funded, diverse public schools; affordable health care and health insurance for all, especially women; environmental justice and green jobs; affordable housing for every person; abolishing the death penalty and mandatory sentencing; expanded services for released prisoners; comprehensive immigration reform to provide immigrants with health care, education, and workers rights; insuring everyone the right to vote; enhancing LGBT rights; keeping America's young men and women out of wars on foreign soil; and more.
All this in Raleigh, a metro area of barely more than a million people. It's as if a million and half turned out in New York or DC, or a million in San Francisco. When was the last time we saw such huge crowds in the streets demanding a total transformation in our way of life? This could be the start of something big.
And it was all led by . . . God?
Many of the marchers would say so. Many others would doubt it. The organizers invited "secular and religious progressives alike," people of every faith and no faith at all. "The march brought together a diverse group from Baptists to Muslims and gay marriage supporters," as USAToday reported.
But no one doubts that it was all started by a man of faith, the Rev. William Barber.
“We will become the ‘trumpet of conscience’ that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called upon us to be, echoing the God of our mothers and fathers in the faith,” the Disciples of Christ minister told the huge crowd, exhorting them to "plant America on higher ground." Then he prayed: "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."
The night before the march he led what a local TV station called "a spiritual pep rally" the Abundant Life Christian Center, designed ( the organizers said) to prepare the marchers "by spiritually invoking ... love, peace, and a source of power beyond what can be seen with our eyes or calculated with our minds."
Those organizers, many of them clergy and religious leaders, are well aware that "some secular progressives object to the use of this kind of language because of its religious overtones. ... Sure, Barber prays in public, uses church language and premises many of his beliefs and arguments on his understanding of the teachings of his faith -- he’s a preacher for Pete’s sake! But his policy messages, his organization and his objectives are thoroughly secular and open to all, whatever their beliefs or lack thereof when it comes to religion."
It's not surprising that his politics would be thoroughly secular. He's got a BA in political science and a PH.D. in public policy as well as pastoral care. He's proving himself to be a shrewd, hard-headed organizer and political tactician. 100,000 progressives don't just appear out of nowhere.
In fact, the Moral March was initiated by the “Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) People’s Assembly Coalition,” started by Barber and other religious leaders back in 2007. It took plenty of hope and faith to believe that within just seven years a small group could swell to such a huge crowd.