BY: ANITA SIMHA
A panel of scholars from various disciplines gathered in the FedEx Global Education Center on Thursday to discuss the sociological, historical, medical, theological, and political implications of the Moral Monday rallies.
The protests have attracted all walks of life, coming together to oppose various social issues from limitations on voter rights to the repeal of the Racial Justice Act. The event did not, however, bring up any new discussion points or recommend any clear direction for the protests to take into the future.
The event opened with a video of Rev. William Barber, leader of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and founder of the Moral Monday movement. Barber gave a fiery speech in his iconic gravelly and impassioned voice. “We have been here before,” he asserted on the projector screen as listeners nodded in agreement. “And if slavery didn’t kill us, if oppression of women didn’t kill us, surely no weak legislator with 86 votes gonna kill us!”
The audience was largely made up by Moral Monday attendees from the Triangle area. When asked how many had been arrested for civil disobedience as part of the protests, about a third of the audience stood up to the cheers and applause of the rest. Microphone troubles brought out the audience’s partiality when, after a particularly painful screech of feedback, someone called out, “Art Pope is behind this!”
Organized by Scholars for North Carolina’s Future, the event involved speeches from Dr. Jesse White, Jr., Dr. Kenneth Andrews, Dr. Jacquelyn Hall, Dr. Charles van der Horst, Dr. Willie Jennings, and Dr. Nancy McLean. Seated comfortably onstage in maroon chintz chairs, each professor addressed the audience for five minutes.
Calling himself the “class of ’06,” Dr. van der Horst proudly announced that he was arrested on the May 6th Moral Monday. As a Professor of Medicine at UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine, he declared that he supported the protests because his job entails stopping people from harming his patients. Noting that his insurance will rise by two percent due to those unable to afford it, Professor van der Horst called the state legislature’s policies “fiscally nutty.” The majority of the audience already recognized the mentioned ideas, however, so making those claims served only to restate old information. Because these broad statements were not extended into the future to determine where to go next, Moral Monday rhetoric at this event came to a standstill.
Dr. MacLean asserted that those in power in North Carolina have a more long-term plan than most people assume. She asked the audience why legislation passed to cut early voting when many support it, answering portentously that the very goal is to ensure fewer people will vote. She stressed that the state legislature is purposefully pushing privatization to “avoid…democratic accountability” in a system that “puts property rights over human rights.” Audience members nodded and murmured in approval over these statements but were left without any idea of what specifically they imply or how to respond to them.
The panel, though diverse in discipline, related to the audience through a shared opposition to North Carolina lawmakers. However, none of the panelists could develop their ideas fully due to time constraints. As a result, their comments became generalities without any true direction, analysis, or recommendation. The audience, as dedicated Moral Monday attendees, already knew and agreed with these vague points made by the speakers, rendering the event rather pointless. During the concluding interactive component, audience members clamored to say their piece, and the event devolved into a circular discussion of redundant testimonials.
Although the program ended with a call of “Forward together!” and the now classic reply, “Not one step back,” this event did not take concrete steps on moving the discussion on social justice in North Carolina forward after all.