In Defense of Moral Monday, GA – The Needed Revival of the Mass Coalition
After moving back to Georgia mid-last year, I took some time to think about what next in my organizing activities. I decided to refocus on coalition building hoping to create something that could eventually challenge policy no matter who was in office. To be successful I felt it had to be broad, able to coalesce around agreed policy ideas, create internal structures that bend toward democratic participation, bring out large numbers of supporters and create dramatic actions to gain attention.
To my surprise a well known local Atlanta activist was moving on the idea of transporting North Carolina’s Moral Monday mobilization campaign here to Georgia. Usually when starting a coalition, the planning of actions come after attempting to put every other matter in place, like creating structure, goals, mission statement, points of unity, meeting rules, etc. Moral Monday GA however made mobilizations the center piece of the work, knowing that some of the progressive policy ideas were easily transportable form North Carolina to Georgia. Since the agenda of the right wing is coordinated across the country by conservative groups like American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), there was no reason “progressive” ideas could not be similarly transferred. Leadership in Moral Monday, GA wisely avoided long hours of detailed debate on policy and the meaning of “morality” as some suggested and instead focused on mobilization ideas, tactics and implementation.
Recently, critiques of Georgia’s Moral Monday have surfaced. Criticism is a good thing because it means you have done something worth noticing and worth commenting on. Some of that criticism however has missed its mark. As opposed to focusing on what can be accomplished with sustained mobilizations critics have created a series of straw men for their own rhetorical flourishes that have very little to do with the actual ongoing work.
One critique is whether the group is going to achieve policy victories or just do mobilizations. On its face that is a sensible inquiry however when organizing in a state with a conservative majority, one needs to mobilize a base, then move to expansion. Actions at this stage are for public awareness and growth with a careful eye toward plotting for achievable policy victories. One marginally important player in Georgia however has gone further and said he would have nothing to do with Moral Monday because amongst other reasons we were just making republicans mad with our acts of civil disobedience. For that reason, the work was worthless. He went on to brag that he was trained via, the King Center. I can only assume he missed the class on King’s dozens of civil disobedience arrests conducted over a decade long battle to win civil rights and economic rights for the poor.
In Atlanta there seems to be some cache to this idea of not offending the sensibilities of conservative legislators because it only makes things worse. The professed follower of King criticized Moral Monday GA for engaging in civil disobedience against a State Senator and then refusing the Senator’s offer to have two people meet with him in private to “discuss” the issue”. He then gave an example of what a “real victory” was. Writing that after protesting against Congressional Majority Leader John Boehner, Boehner’s chief of staff agreed to meet with him and a few others privately. In his words a victory was achieved because his voice was heard. In essence he confuses access and a handshake with a policy victory. It is this constant childlike desire to receive attention from the very people who are ramming right wing policies down the throat of the working class and people of color that makes some “progressives” look like political chumps. I suggest my friend read Dr. Kings letter from a Birmingham jail, on why we can’t wait or be moderate in demands for justice.
Some allies question the very need for demonstrations and rallies. Many thinking of them as passé. With questions like what do we get from them, no one pays attention, we are preaching to the choir and so forth. Although there are many issues that arise in how to have a successful demonstration, the tool itself is still one of the most provocative ways to show displeasure at policy and political events happening around us. A demonstration test the size and strength of your constituency, the diversity of your forces and the willingness of those who agree to take time out of their everyday life to “show up” and be counted. When done correctly it raises the stakes and can propel an idea into the discourse of thousands.
Lastly, even some good allies have produced ill informed commentary accusing Moral Monday GA of being a branding exercise for democratic officials. The old movement heads used to say no investigation – no right to speak. From my reading of his article there has been no investigation, no attendance at meetings or involvement. Moral Monday has one leading democratic Senator (for full disclosure who I am currently working for) involved who speaks truth to power both within and outside of the democratic party. At no time has he even suggested that the group get involved in the party, nor has he suggested that democrats locally or nationally not be called out for their own failures in pushing for the rights of working class, people of color and social justice issues. Left commentators must do more than create false arguments in order to bash Obama (there are enough legitimate issues to oppose Obama on). At this stage we need to do more than be Harold Cruse inspired gadflies on organizing activities.
Here in Georgia what Moral Monday suffers from currently is that the coalition has been driven by the “usual suspects” of organizers – present company included. Although recently some of the civil disobedience actions has excited some in the traditional civil rights movement as well as some of the non-profit social justice types, the big question is whether increased numbers of students, civil rights organizations, unions and everyday people will get more heavily involved, and create a critical mass of supporters for the Moral Monday idea here in Atlanta.
Georgia needs to build an outside/inside strategy. Lobbying and voting are tools within a larger framework of organizing for social change particularly within the United States. As in some other southern states, demographic changes of race and the politics of youth will bring shifts in the larger body politic. New coalitions can be built between people of color and working class whites that address the economic and political issues that both sets are facing. The current republican leadership is not interested in bending, because they believe their base does not wish them too. By their base, I mostly mean business interest and rural working class whites who have formed a stable historical conservative alliance. A counter force has to be created over time that builds alliances across the state that can pressure elected officials and create policy. This could eventually force local democrats to actually be more closely aligned with Moral Monday GA policy initiatives. Yes, democrats. Not because they are a party of disciplined progressives but because in a two party system it is where you will find progressive leaning legislators and where you can run them for office. Lastly Moral Monday must expand the base to make working class whites confront their own historical short-sightedness on race over their own economic interest. It’s a big task one that left leaning folks always speak about achieving. For Moral Monday activists the question is will this be the coalition that revives mass action in Georgia.