Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Movement Launches in Georgia

After more than four months of long meetings, countless hours devoted to phone calls to organizations all over Georgia, deeper coordination than I’ve ever see between groups that normally don’t mix, visits to over 60 churches, and lots of tasks completed by countless people, the MoralMonday Georgia movement was launched yesterday in the pouring rain.

Many of us were inspired by the Moral Monday movement inNorth Carolina. For the first time since the Occupy movement,  we were seeing folks let go of organizational identity to work under one banner around a number of important issues that all had clear intersections; but Moral Monday was different from the Occupy Movement.

The Occupy Movement never intended to have a clear goal for every action, every march. The Occupy movement forced a much needed spotlight onto wealth disparity; it changed the national conversation, and has brought more awareness to corporate corruption. It certainly can be said that Occupy planted the seeds that eventually landed historic settlements between the big banks and the federal government with more to come, though certainly not enough.

What we saw in North Carolina was different. Although the movement had clear broad aspirations and clear intersections between many issues, it seemed from the get go that Moral Monday intended to directly challenge legislation that hurt people in their state. Every week we heard of a new piece of terrible legislation that they were fighting, and boy did they seem committed. Every week it was another mass demonstration with principled nonviolent civil disobedience, week after week after week. Almost 1000 people were arrested through the course of North Carolina’s legislative session.

By the end of last year what North Carolina had built began to look like what could be a new southern strategy, like one we haven’t seen in my lifetime. It’s highly organized and disciplined, but also very diverse and inclusive, it sees all the issues as connected, but understands strategy and aims to win real victories, the movement seemed media savvy and continued to do what folks least expected, the movement intentionally targeted their state budgets and policies; understanding the organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have been quietly targeting state houses for decades.
In Georgia we were paying attention, some of us even took road trips to North Carolina. Over the summer last year folks from Occupy Our Homes Atlanta lead a campaign to stop Desert Storm Veteran Mark Harris from being evicted from his home at the hands of housing giant Fannie Mae. On Mark’s eviction day dozens of us converged on his property and stood with Mark, refusing to leave until Fannie Mae made a fair deal with Mark.  We set up a camp in Mark’s yard and late into the evening we began to talk about Moral Monday and the Dream Defenders, we talked about the need to build bridges between all the amazing organizing in our city, to build the movement that intersects all our work. It was in that late night that we first began to talk about what the Moral Monday movement would look like in Georgia.

We lost Mark’s home, but the resistance of his wrongful eviction spark the first Moral Monday planning meeting and over the course of the last four months we’ve built an exciting diverse coalition that includes over 50 groups.

Yesterday we launch our first ambition action, the issue of the day; Medicaid expansion. Though there are dozens of policy issues we could have focused on nothing seems more urgent, nothing seems to cut to the core of our state’s crisis of moral priority then our Governors decision to block 650,000 struggling Georgian’s from receiving healthcare and 70,000 good jobs to our state. The cruel irony is that as of January 1st Georgians are paying for folks all over the country to receive lifesaving healthcare, yet Georgians are refused, per Governor Deal’s decision, the very same healthcare.
Yesterday Moral Monday demonstrators have a presence at the Capitol all day. Around 100 people showed up to lobby their representatives on the first day of the legislative session and through many of them were able to talk with the person elected to represent them, most were refused a meeting.

In the early afternoon Central Presbyterian, the church directly across the street from the Capitol, hosted a two hour workshop led by Rev William Baber who’s a leading voice in the movement.

Despite the constant pouring rain 500 people came out in the rain for a rally on the steps of the Capitol. After the crowd heard from clergy, doctors, community leaders, and the uninsured folks that would benefit from Medicaid expansion, a solemn precession was led by faith leaders up the stairs of the capitol. Everyone took their turn to walk to the steps of the capitol and lay down a religious symbol, each symbol represented a Georgian who will die this year because Governor Deal refuses to accept Medicaid expansion.

After a brief tense moment with police, many at the rally chose to join clergy in walking all the way up to the steps and placing their hands on the door of the capitol. The message was clear; this is life or death for Georgians.

The struggle to bring healthcare to Georgians is one the Moral Monday Movement will continue to engage in. Next week Moral MondayCoalition members will march in the MLK March on the 20th, and we will be back at theCapitol January 27th to either celebrate Governor Deal’s decision to do the right thing or escalate the campaign using creative, disciplined nonviolent direct action.

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