Stand Up, Miss Jean Louise

I’ll tell you the moment when I suddenly believed we were going to win.

ImageIt was probably around 6:15 or so. The Moral Monday speeches were still pattering on, we were chatting with various progressive folks around the big empty plaza among all the big boring state buildings, already thinking about dinner, when there was a gentle press towards the center of the crowd. A Moral Monday veteran, I quickly recognized what was happening: the march of those willing to be arrested had begun. People lined their path, applauding, cheering, chanting – doing everything but cast rose petals.

I didn’t think. I swept Louie, my eight-year-old, up in my arms as I had not done in years, lifted him until he sat on my shoulder, bouncing there as I ran to the edge of the crowd. “Look,” I told him. “Look! Those are people brave enough to go to jail for knowing what is right! This is why we are here – this is who we are supporting.” He watched. Once Louie had seen, up went Gus, age five, for his own look. I was moved, suddenly, almost to tears, so profound was my gratitude that those people were willing to march off to be arrested, to make the kind of noise that though the dumbasses causing the demonstrations won’t hear it still will reach the ears of the nation.

It’s not just those being jailed, of course – Moral Mondays are a product of the thousands Imageof us who come out every week “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” They’re the outcome of limitless effort by the NAACP. They’re the result of hundreds of leaders and thousands of people from dozens of organizations — religious, secular, political, community. The movement spreads because Rev. Barber constantly harps on it never becoming violent or disrespectful; it spreads because every time it meets, tone-deaf Governor McCrory refuses to address those grievances; it spreads because dumbasses like Tom Goolsby and Tom Apodoca put their feet further down their throats every time they even speak of it. It spreads because GOP attacks on women, on voting rights, on freedom of religion, on schools, on healthcare, on science are so shocking and barbaric.

Above all it spreads because the dopes were just too stupid to wait long enough: we are just this very summer hitting the fiftieth anniversary of the last time the people had to fight these fights, and there are too many people alive who fought too hard then. We haven’t forgotten yet. They’ve overplayed their hand.

But though that’s all thrilling, that wasn’t what gave me my chill, my sudden flash of hope. There was something about that moment – something about showing my kids the importance of the walk those brave citizens were making, something about showing those people our respect. That resonated with … something.

Later, at home, I figured it out and told my wife. It reminded me of the moment in To Kill a Mockingbird when Atticus Finch, having lost his case, exits the courtroom and Scout, seated in the balcony with the town’s black population, doesn’t notice the people around her have stood up. “Miss Jean Louise, stand up,” Reverend Sykes tells her. “Your father’s passin’.

And your hair stands on end.

It’s much like the moment when Huck Finn decides to go to hell rather than allow Jim to be captured: a tiny but decisive moment, the kind of detail literature exists to underscore. Examples of what it means to care enough to be truly human. Examples of what courage looks like, and how we should respond to it.

We can’t all of us be Huck, we mostly lack the guts, and we can’t all be Atticus – we mostly lack the skill. But we can all try to show courage, and we can all certainly stand in respect of those Hucks and Atticuses among us, and I can’t think of anything more important to teach our children.

ImageAnd, to be sure, our children are learning. Louie and Gus, who have shown some reluctance to attend boring old speechifying Moral Mondays, today bent to make signs, and urged us to go to jail for our beliefs. We might. We got lots of loves from passersby, praising us for bringing our children. When the volunteer helping us remember to leave signs behind as we headed for the legislature said “Welcome home! This is your house!” people praised us for explaining what would happen if the legislature tried to lock the doors (“we would get a judge to make them open them back up”).

We explained what would happen if our protests succeeded (“everyone would be allowed to easily vote; everyone could see a doctor; women could make their own medical decisions; everyone would get to go to a good school; if you lost your job, we would help you; we would take care of our planet”), what would happen if their mom or I did get arrested (“we would be home later that night”). Louie said that if we did get arrested, in solidarity he would not sleep that night until we got home.

And it’s all beautiful and wonderful. I’m proud of our little sign-making boys and their Imageenormous hearts (“but why would someone want to make it so other people can’t vote?”). And I’m happy enough that each week this festival of resistance grows stronger and more fierce.

But I’m thrilled to say that for the first time in years I believe. When you’re standing up for the same things that Huck and Atticus stood for? You can be fairly sure you’re in the right. I know that in 2012, like Atticus, we lost a rigged case to a crooked jury. And I know that despite these appalling steps backwards gerrymandering and institutionalized wickedness will hamper all attempts to win on appeal. But I also feel swept up: the appeals will continue. We’ll stand as our Atticuses go by, one after another, until there are enough of us standing that the Apodocas and Goolsbys and McCrorys will eventually, in shame, sit down.


23 thoughts on “Stand Up, Miss Jean Louise

  1. You capture the experience of Moral Monday so eloquently and perfectly. When I attended, I told my 5 year old daughter I was going for her and for her future and for the future of our great state! She hugged me and thanked me. It was a very moving experience. As I said, you have captured it, in words, perfectly.

  2. I was unable to go, so at home I watched the news and cheered the many who were there. Then I cheered again this morning at your eloquent analysis of the latest Republican movement back into the last century; their bill to close abortion clinics is both unwise and meanspirited. (As are so many actions taken in the past few months.) A long-time teacher of literature, I found that MY hair stood on end as you spoke of how the Moral Monday crowds’ witnessing for truth-opposed-to-power echoes the crucial moral decisions in both Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird. Thank you, thank you.

  3. Who are you huler? Although I can understand anonymity, I believe in transparency whenever possible. So many websites do not have a good ABOUT tab. Also, how do I ensure email notifications for each post (I use a gadget for this in Google Blogger for my unlaunched blog – LOL . I plan? to use my Facebook Badge on my blog (not sure yet).

  4. I would love to have the author of this great piece, on my progressive radio show to talk about it! I have one of the only progressive talk shows in NC, here in Asheville, every Monday thru Friday from 3 pm to 6 pm! Please contact me and let’s set something up! the call in phone number is 828 252 4348 and my email is

  5. Thank you for helping to keep the movement going.
    I was voluntarily arrested at Moral Monday #9 on July 1st, 2013. It was my 5th Moral Monday. My 10 year old attended his first Moral Monday this week. I have been standing beside my fellow freedom fighters for weeks when I realized 3 weeks ago that I was going to lose my unemployment benefits after losing my job through no fault of my own. My little man wanted to come to Moral Monday but I explained to him that I was gonna get arrested on purpose and he could go to Moral Monday #9. He said mom you are so brave, and will you be home tonight? I assured him I would. He made me promise to let him come next week. There we were at Moral Monday #10 at the back of the crowd my son and I holding up the giant stick puppet of Martin Luther King. With pride on his face and knowledge flowing from his lips he was delighted to explain to everyone who asked what he was doing and who’s face was on the puppet.
    He has sat through a “really boring” coal burning symposium, allowed doctor Barbara Gotleib to engage and involve him in the speech she gave, and put make up on and dressed like a zombie for the Charlotte, NC zombie walk in protest of BOA’s foreclosure practices. I think it is important to teach children to stand for what they believe in and fight back against injustice. He is my hero.
    Thank you for instilling the same value in your children as I do mine. Thank you for giving the movement a voice, and thank you most of all for giving the movement a future by bringing your children.

  6. You’ve written the blog I wanted to write, but somehow didn’t. I tend to give up, to think we’re outnumbered, it’s hopeless. And then I run across something like this, and hope bubbles up out of the darkness.

  7. Thank you. We here in Missouri feel trapped in a crazy morass of stupidity. Our state legislators are following the ALEC model of “free markets” and destroying all of our safety net programs. Won’t even expand Medicaid despite the urging of our hospital assn and Chamber of Commerce. The Capitol is in a small town in the middle of the state so it’s hard for us to protest in large numbers. But you are inspiring many of us. Are we brave enough to be “truly human”? I don’t know.

  8. I felt you really captured the spirit and meaning of our plight here in NC! I am trying to get our paper in westerm NC to carry more state news, is your article available to be used? I would love to ask the new editor to run it! m just wondering and do not know how this works.

  9. I’m listening to you on 880 the Revolution as I write this. Asheville progressives are very proud of our radio station and Jeff Messer. I have been to two Moral Mondays, one with my daughter. I hope to come back soon. Beautifully written blog, ironically including quotes from “To Kill a Mockingbird” my daughters favorite read. Thank you and maybe, possibly we will cross paths.

  10. Great post. Everyone in NC who believes what the Republican party is doing to NC is wrong should go to at least one Moral Monday. I’ve been to one and it is life changing watching people standing up for what is right. If we stand together we can turn this thing around and get our state back before it’s to late.

  11. This. captures. it. all. THANK YOU for the post and for attending the rallys weekly. I was there for 10 and will be back for more!

  12. I am so happy to see the people of North Carolina exercising their right as citizens to protest government for redress of grievance! The person sacrifice demonstrated by so many is encouraging.

  13. Brilliant and brave beyond all contemplation. I’ll stand up for you, huler, and for anyone who stands with you.

  14. I feel that you could replace NC with TX and it would be exactly what I’m feeling. Love the idea of the Moral Mondays. Standing with you in Texas.

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