Yesterday, for the first time in my 62 years, I participated in an act of civil disobedience that resulted in my arrest.
I wasn’t alone. I was arrested that day with nine other clergy-types from North Carolina. That evening, another group of people was arrested, too. About 1000 people went before us as a part of the Moral Monday movement that began its third year this week. Before Moral Monday, there have been other movements that included acts of civil disobedience around the world, and in the United States. In fact, our country was started by acts of civil disobedience. I am honored to march with the millions of people who have gone before me, moved to step out for the sake of justice.
Ten years ago, North Carolina was considered a progressive state and I was proud to call myself a North Carolinian by choice. In recent years, I have grown increasingly frustrated with the decisions of our lawmakers in Raleigh and have watched us become a regressive state. There seems to be a complete disregard for justice. The poor are being trampled upon with no evidence of compassion as we enter a time in our country when the disparity between rich and poor is similar to colonial times.
For a while, I wondered if people were even aware of what was happening. The Racial Justice Act of 2009 was repealed, which had allowed inmates on death row to challenge their sentences on the basis of racial discrimination. (The problem in North Carolina is a proven fact.) Voting rights have been restricted. Women’s healthcare limited. Little regard has been shown for the environment. Education has suffered drastically, including cuts to teacher pay that has sent some of our best educators to other states. (This is a problem for our children that will cost us far more in the long-run.) People were cut off from unemployment benefits far earlier than they needed to be. The state opted out of Medicaid expansion, which was part of the Affordable Care Act and would have provided coverage to 500,000 North Carolinians who do not currently receive coverage. As a result, thousands of people have died without the healthcare that could have saved them. People are dying as a result of the decisions our General Assembly has been making. Was anybody seeing this?
The fact is, since Dr. William Barber began the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina, people in our state are paying attention to what is happening in our General Assembly. They are aware of the unjust, immoral and at times criminal acts being perpetrated against the people of our state. Public opinion has shifted. So, I have no doubt that the movement has made a difference. At the center of that movement are acts of civil disobedience. Without them, Moral Mondays are like a barking dog, alerting everyone to the problem, but more annoying to our opponents than anything. The actions are what give the movement its bite.
Last week, my dear colleague Robin Tanner told our Wednesday morning Bible Study group that she would be going to Raleigh for the anniversary of Moral Monday and she planned to participate in civil disobedience that day. Robin is such an inspiration to me. She is a UU minister, younger than my children, and wise far beyond her years. She has a passion that drives her to organize others and speak eloquently on behalf of justice that truly amazes me. What a gift she has been to our Charlotte community in the few short years she has been with us. I have been one of her many cheerleaders.
When I learned that Robin would be going to Raleigh alone, I offered to drive her. I’ve been to several Moral Monday events in the past couple of years and I was glad to take part.
Then I started watching the unrest in Baltimore on TV. Although it troubles me, it doesn’t surprise me. How much can people take from a system that is stacked against them, never seems to change, and in many ways is only getting worse? They are frustrated and angry. I get that. But as I watched the events unfolding on my TV screen I kept asking myself, What am I doing to help change the circumstances of our world that lead to such despair?
I thought and prayed about my witness to the God of justice and love. The day before Robin and I planned to go to Raleigh, I knew the time had come for me to join in the march of the saints before me. It was cowardice that kept me from doing so before, and I wanted to look at myself in the mirror for the remainder of my life. This time I couldn’t stand by and watch others do something I knew I was also called to do myself.
I had to do it. And I’m glad I did. Was it easy? No. Was it uncomfortable? Yes. Was it necessary? I believe it was. Will it make a difference? It already has. I’m another person in a very long movement that has sided with the poor, the marginalized, and those who are treated unjustly. As I understand it, that’s where Jesus sided, too. It’s made a difference in the life of the world and, as of April 29, 2015, it’s made a difference in the life of me.