This past Saturday’s 11th annual HKonJ-Moral March on Raleigh was by any estimation, a rousing success. At a point in time in which caring and thinking people are being inundated with multiple calls to action on a daily – if not hourly – basis, tens of thousands of people found the time and energy to make their way to downtown Raleigh to denounce Trumpism and the destructive actions of the North Carolina legislature and promote a vastly different vision of American society.
What’s more, in addition to the marvelous esprit de corps that the event helped to promote and infuse in those who marched and watched online, one couldn’t help but sense that there was a new level of power, efficiency and effectiveness in the movement spearheaded by Rev. William Barber, President of the North Carolina NAACP.
Progressives get their act together
As with all previous iterations of the march, those in attendance heard from an array of speakers on dozens of important issues ranging from voting rights to economic justice to LGBTQ equality to immigrant and refugee rights to the fight to combat climate change. This time, however, one got the unmistakable feeling that things were different; that the many speakers represented different facets of the same unified and powerful mission rather than a mere collection of allied causes.
Whether it was the phenomenon of a Muslim imam leading the crowd in raucous chants of “not one step back” or that of a transgender woman receiving passionate cheers as she promoted a progressive agenda, one got the sense that progressives are finally starting to speak more and more with one voice – a voice rooted in love of humanity and a passionate commitment to genuine freedom for all and the survival of the human species.
There is probably no single reason for this evolution. The horrifying and galvanizing rise of Trump is certainly a contributing factor. So is the undeniable fact that progressives are really starting to listen to each other and absorb each other’s messages. And then there’s the old and simple adage that “practice makes perfect” and that, after more than a decade of building a movement, Barber and those around him have gotten pretty good at this stuff.
Whichever the case, Saturday’s event concluded on a note of great optimism. As disheartening as the last couple of months have been when it comes to the noxious policies of the Trump administration and the most recent power grabs of the North Carolina General Assembly, there was a palpable sense this weekend that a growing tide of Americans and North Carolinians has begun to stand up and say “enough is enough.”
Lessons from the podium
Three of the most important and powerful messages at Saturday’s event came directly from Rev. Barber and were in keeping with the general aura of optimism that prevailed.
Number One was Barber’s reminder that as toxic as today’s policy environment has become, it’s important to remember that this is hardly the worst that things have ever been for forward thinking Americans. This is not to say that there aren’t many dreadful days ahead in life under a president the NAACP leader rightfully characterized as an “extremist, narcissistic con artist,” but in a country that has endured and overcome slavery, Jim Crow, Japanese internment and the denial of basic rights to women and LGBTQ citizens, it’s important to keep one’s perspective.
Number Two was the message that the recent and inspiring spate of marches (and the fast-growing anti-Trump movement generally) are anything but a “spontaneous” development as some in the media have alleged. To the contrary, Barber observed, today’s growing movement is clearly just the latest chapter in what is a long and proud struggle for freedom and justice that has ebbed and flowed throughout the history of the Republic. To talk about the modern day resistance to Trump without linking it to the pre-Civil War abolitionists, the “Fusion” movement of the late 19th Century, the fight for labor rights, the civil rights movements of the mid-20th Century or the peace movement is as illogical as discussing Trumpism without highlighting its links to the nation’s dark and longstanding traditions of racism, nativism, sexism, homophobia and economic exploitation.
The third and most hopeful lesson from the podium on Saturday was Barber’s reminder of just how much the Trumpist forces fear the progressive movement. The evidence for this, he noted, is in the remarkable lengths to which conservatives have been forced to go in recent years to hold on to power. Simply put, one doesn’t employ the outrageous gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics conservatives have embraced (or resort to the remarkable action of inviting/facilitating the interference of a foreign government in the nation’s election) unless one is genuinely fearful of one’s opponents. As Barber rightfully observed, the American Right knows how potentially powerful the growing progressive movement is and that’s why it will do almost anything to stop it.
One area in which progressives still don’t get it – the Supreme Court
Sadly, one issue in the current national debate in which the kind of energy and hope on display Saturday have been notably and destructively absent is with respect to Trump’s nomination of the extreme right-winger Neil Gorsuch to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
For the denizens of the American far right – especially the religious right – the Gorsuch nomination is the vindication of their hypocritical and cringe-inducing embrace of Trump. It is their ultimate victory and the payoff they demanded for their essential assistance in electing a president whose personal character even they abhor. By employing a cynical pragmatism that would have made even Machiavelli do a double take, these far right activists appear on the verge of empowering a man who could block national progress for decades. If things go to plan, Gorsuch will help them to hold back any progressive tide that might emerge in a post-Trump America till mid-century.
the highly respected Alliance for Justice, many rank and file progressives are frustratingly silent.
Contrast this state of affairs to the recent controversy over the nomination of Betsy DeVos to serve as Secretary of Education. As important as DeVos’ new position is, the hard reality is that it’s not a tenth as important as the job Gorsuch has been nominated to fill. What’s more, DeVos is a bumbling incompetent who will likely be gone in a couple of years. Gorsuch, on the other hand, is a deviously smart and effective character who could well be ably undermining progress long after Trump is a minor footnote in history.
As I noted last week:
“The simple truth is that Neil Gorsuch and the people behind him represent everything that’s wrong with modern America. They (and he) are a threat to freedom, to progress, to diversity and equality and, ultimately when it comes to protection of the natural environment, the long-term survival of life on the planet as we know it.
Gorsuch may be a nice and handsome guy who loves his family and likes to ski, but, in the end, that doesn’t count for squat. The hard reality is that on vital matter after vital matter over the next several decades, a Justice Gorsuch will simply be another friend and ally to the dreadful Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Rather than helping to move our country forward, he will take it dramatically backwards.
Now add to this the utterly outrageous fact that Gorsuch is being allowed to glide into a seat that was out and out stolen from President Obama. This is just wrong and something that can’t be allowed to take place without a knock-down, drag-out fight — even if it’s an uphill battle.”
Happily, it’s not too late to dramatically ramp up the effort to stop Gorsuch. What’s more, as this weekend’s march and others have demonstrated, the committed people are there to do it. Let’s hope the progressive movement soon awakens to the fact that there is no more important battle to fight in 2017.
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