I’ll tell you the moment when I suddenly believed we were going to win.
It 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 of 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.
And, 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 enormous 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.