This Saturday is the 10th annual Moral March in Raleigh, sponsored by the HKonJ Coalition.
HKonJ stands for Historic Thousands on Jones Street and originated as a march to remind elected officials that we stand together for sound public policies.
The Moral March and HKonJ are part of the Forward Together Moral Movement, a beautifully diverse effort to get our government to listen to reason and stop harming the people they were elected to represent.
We are young and old, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and atheist and agnostic; we are gay and straight, black, white, brown and mixed-race; we are immigrants and citizens liberal and conservative, men and women, students, professionals, laborers, executives and unemployed, we are people with and without disabilities, and out unity makes us strong.
When the Democrats led the General Assembly, they were’t perfect, but they would sit down and talk to us — and they would listen. They didn’t always do what we wanted, but they were open to discussion.
Then the Republicans took control and everything changed. Discussion wasn’t an option anymore. They came in and immediately began making bad policies — cutting funds for education, gutting unemployment insurance, denying access to health care by refusing to expand Medicaid, limiting women’s access to reproductive care, allowing our waterways to be polluted by Big Energy, increasing access to guns, cutting access to the vote, gerrymandering district lines and more.
I know first-hand what it is to lose someone I loved to bad public policy. My son died from lack of access to health care because our system cares more about profit than about human lives. I want to tell my son’s story to some of the people who are voting to deny a half million people access to health care. Others in the movement were or are unemployed, or affected by coal ash spills or are teachers who can’t make ends meet on their low salaries. Still others are fast-food workers who work two and three jobs and still can’t feed their families.
When we tried to make appointments to talk to them, most of our legislators ignored us. Those who did agree to meet with us individually were not open to listening.
We tried writing letters, but that didn’t do any good.
Meanwhile teachers began leaving the state in record numbers. People who lost jobs through no fault of their own — and who lost their access to health care in the process — had to take low-wage jobs, Many lost their homes. Worst of all, people died — and continue to die every day — because they can’t get access to health care.
So, we started going into the General Assembly Building to try and talk to legislators, as is our right under the North Carolina Constitution. We found the doors to the observation galleries locked. We stood in the rotunda and sang and prayed, and our legislators had us all arrested.
By the end of 2013, about 1,000 people had been arrested. In 2014, nearly all of us had all our charges dropped because we had been arrested for trespassing in a public building that was open. The charges of carrying signs (I only had this photo of my son) and chanting and loud singing were thrown out almost immediately as violations of our First Amendment rights.
Still, we had to go to Raleigh every month for court dates and we often were forced to sit in court all day, waiting for a call that didn’t come. I went seven times before my charges were dismissed on appeal. I was found guilty by a judge on my sixth trip.
In 2015, they waited for us to go into the building, then closed it and told us we had to leave. We stayed because we knew legislative leaders were in their offices and we wanted to speak to them. We were arrested again.
The Moral Movement has made a difference. Our voting rights lawsuits are making their way through the courts, and just last week, two Congressional districts were found to be illegal because they were drawn based on race.
We aren’t just protesting, though — we are educating people, and we are registering people to vote. Many of us have signed a pledge to register 50 new voters before Election Day.
This Moral March won’t involve any arrests; it is an opportunity for all of us to come together to ask out government to do what’s best for the people, not the bidding of corporate overlords.
We will march, we will sing, we will chant and we will hear the stories of people whose lives have been torn apart by the bad policies of this government.
Our theme is Our Time, Our Vote, and we’ll be talking about how to get a government that’s more in tune with the needs of the governed.
This is an important event for anyone who hopes for a better North Carolina.