What the Moral Monday Movement can teach us about resisting Trump

Reverend William Barber speaks at a Moral Monday rally in North Carolina. Image courtesy T.W. Buckner.

On Saturday January 21st, thousands of people will march on Washington in opposition to Donald Trump’s ascendency and the regression it represents. Solidarity marches will happen in NYC, Chicago and dozens of other cities.

The sheer number of people expected to participate will send a strong signal to Trump and the GOP about just how many people oppose their actions. But although the Women’s March has released a platform for the protest, what happens after the march remains unclear. Right now it feels like some sort of progressive last stand: Trump readies his pen to sign bills defunding planned parenthood and, unqualified cabinet nominees are confirmed, and the GOP continues to steamroll Democratic resistance.

Even before the inauguration, the danger to progressive institutions and progressive values posed by Trump and the 115th Congress has become clear. As each new policy, plan, appointment, or scandal emerges, almost on a daily basis, progressives tacitly concede the old ones. Post-election fights began with calls for Trump to disentangle himself from his personal business interests, then calls for proper vetting of his cabinet, calls to stop Republicans from repealing the ACA, renewed concerns about his Russian ties and now, whether cabinet nominees such as Betsy Devos, Jeff Session or Pruitt, considered unqualified, should be confirmed.

Aided by a media that relies on the sensational to sustain its twenty-four hour business model, the attention of the public is continually shifted from one problem to the next. Moreover, most of the calls to action that progressives have mounted so far are responsive: "Don't let the GOP do this, tell the GOP you don't like their tactic/plan/policy." As a result it becomes easy for people to forget about old problems that remain unsolved. Each new issue becomes a distraction from the last, and for many it can feel like being asked to put one’s finger in a dam. Certainly, all of these issues should be addressed, but the current responsive strategy is failing.

Consider this: The dam is broken, there will be a flood, and the question progressives must now ask themselves is how to rebuild it. The answer lies in abandoning the battleground Republicans have established and creating their own; first, by focusing on the policies and programs progressives want, rather than what progressives want to stop Republicans from doing; and second, by using sustained direct action to keep that message from being lost amid the twenty four hour news cycle and their own, almost determined inability to keep up with anything that is no longer in the news cycle.

Amid the shock and awe that overtook news anchors, pollsters, and Hillary supporters as the reality of a Trump presidency set in, there were a few glimmers of hope. One was the ousting of North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, infamous for his decision to sign into law what has become known as “the bathroom bill.” Many have attributed his loss to the disastrous H.B. 2, which elicited nation-wide scorn from progressives and has led to anywhere between 100 million to half a billion dollars in lost revenue, according to various sources. But some, including Public Policy Polling, argue that McCrory’s loss began far earlier, when in 2013, a group of faith-based activists began occupying the Legislature Building every Monday in a movement they called Moral Monday.

The success of the Moral Monday movement lies in its combined strategy of sustained protest and constructive messaging in pursuit of what Rev. Willian L. Barber, the movement’s most prominent leader, calls a Third Reconstruction (the post-Civil-War Reconstruction and the civil rights movement being its predecessors). It is this strategy that provides the necessary roadmap to resistance to a Trump presidency.

In April of 2013, Barber released a statement which put forward a platform encompassing everything from economic and educational rights to healthcare rights, the most prominent being a demand for an end to voter suppression. What made this platform so powerful was not only its dual basis in faith and constitutionalism, but also its positive framing of the economic and social change being sought. Causes like “ending poverty by fighting for full employment, living wages, the alleviation of disparate unemployment…” “ensuring every child receives a high quality, well-funded, Constitutional, diverse public education…” and “Fairness in the criminal justice system by addressing the continuing inequalities in the system and providing equal protection under the law for black, brown and poor white people,” are causes most people can get behind, even if they disagree about how to ultimately achieve those goals.

By standing up at the State house every Monday, repeating this platform and pointing out that the legislature continued to remain unresponsive to these goals, Moral Monday leaders kept many of these issues in the press. Public Policy Polling shows that voter support was low not only for H.B. 2, but for a number of other bills including ones eliminating straight party ticket voting, blocking medicaid expansion, and cutting unemployment benefits. At every point, the Moral Monday Movement was able to stand up and say, “this is our vision and this is how the current legislature is thwarting that vision,” thereby simultaneously building support for that vision and opposition to the actions of the legislature. Pat McCrory’s failure to veto any of these unpopular bills, with the exception of the almost universally unpopular abortion restriction amendment, made him even more unpopular.

In the ever-increasing pile of post-election what-went-wrong pieces, much has been said about the injury identity politics may have done to the Ddemocratic party. Yet Moral Mondays present a model for resistance that does nothing to diminish the centrality of issues of racial, gender, or LGBTQIA equality. The movement centers its strategy on building broad coalitions around things like economic rights while maintaining a commitment to racial justice and civil rights. It is heavily influenced by Fusionist politics, which focused on bringing together disparate coalitions, most notably Blacks and White Republicans in the Reconstruction-era South, around a shared interest in economic reform and Civil Rights. The momentary success of this movement, even though the movement was ended by state-sponsored campaigns of racial violence across the South, provides a strong precedent for creating the coalition necessary to win back working-class voters.

The future of progressive resistance lies in building coalitions around a progressive vision of what the U.S. should guarantee to its citizens. These visions will only be realized through sustained direct action, protests, marches, sit-ins, walk-outs, and other forms of protest and civic participation. As visions go, the Moral Monday Movement's platform is strong. So is platform recently released by the Women’s March, and the anti-police-brutality and racial-justice-oriented platform released by Movement for Black Lives just last spring. Where coalition-building is concerned, the overwhelming number of partners and sister marches suggests that calls to direct action have momentum right now. Working with organizations like Black Lives Matter, the NAACP, and SURJ, all of which have local chapters and intimately understand local issues, will only strengthen these coalitions and help establish stronger local and state platforms around which to organize. Let Saturday be Day one of the Third Reconstruction, the New Civil Rights Movement, or whatever history may decide to call the progressive resistance that succeeds, not just in symbolic resistance, but in building a nation that more closely reflects the principles upon which it was founded.