¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 1 This case study examines the underlying logics of a democratic counter-public envisioned by Moral Mondays, an activist group in North Carolina. Formed in response to what it has labelled a resurgence of right wing extremism in North Carolina state politics, this social movement seeks to integrate a variety of social justice issues under the umbrella of moral dissent. There are two main aims for this case study. One is to trace important ideas that emerge in the discourse disseminated by Moral Mondays. These ideas are important for understanding not only the makeup of the counter-public envisioned by Moral Mondays, but also for understanding the patterns of exclusion embedded within legislated limits to political access. Lila Abu-Lughod investigates resistance as “a diagnostic of power”. Using Michel Foucault’s theory that power is productive even of resistance, Abu-Lughod works backward using Foucault’s formulation by tracing forms of resistance to understand the properties of power that gave rise to these forms in a particular context. My analysis, however, has an important difference from Abu-Lughod’s. I propose that the resistance espoused by Moral Mondays is not simply generated by a particular form of power, but that this resistance is accurately reading power. In this sense, power has been productive of a particular form of resistance, an imagining of a democratic public, because power is being actively read and interpreted by those excluded from it. My goal is to place North Carolina state power and its resistance in the same analytical field, to read one alongside the other, in order to understand the logics of inclusion and exclusion of both a dominant political public and the Moral Mondays counter-public as the latter speaks back to the former.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 My second goal is to illustrate, based on the reading described above, that the Moral Mondays ideal public subverts not only the social categories of exclusion in the formation of a dominant public, but the underlying epistemologies that give these meaning. On the intertwined rise of democracy and fossil fuel industries, Timothy Mitchell writes that we can look at democracy in two ways: as “ways of making effective claims for a more just and egalitarian world” or as “a means of limiting claims for greater equality and justice by dividing up the common world”. Rather than seeing Mitchell’s two definitions as an issue of the former discursive mode masking the latter true materiality, I propose that we think through the first definition as a possible counter-definition that can reveal the logics upon which exclusion is made legitimate and common-sensical. In other words, the Moral Mondays construction of a democratic public provides a counter-logic of public inclusion which reveals the exclusions embedded in the most basic structures of liberal democracy.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 North Carolina has undergone major changes in state policy in recent years. These changes began when the North Carolina Republican party gained control of the state legislature in 2010 and intensified with the election of a Republican governor in 2012. The changes in policy rolled back various protections and forms of access to social services and political participation. In light of the 2016 Presidential election, perhaps the most profound change was passage of House Bill 589 in July 2013. This bill created one of the most restrictive voting policies in the United States and specifically targeted African American voters. It introduced new voter identification requirements, allowed counties to reduce early voting, eliminated same day voter registration, repealed legislation that allowed former prison inmates convicted of a felony to re-register, and ensured the legality of voter challenging. In addition, under Governor Pat McCrory, North Carolina blocked Medicaid expansion, restricted unemployment benefits, made cuts to spending on pre-K education while shifting money to private charter schools, eliminated legal aid programs, proposed a bill to allow gun purchases without a permit, eliminated the Earned Income Credit while decreasing taxes for the wealthy, repealed the Racial Justice Act, and passed House Bill 2, requiring transgender people to use bathrooms consistent with the sex listed on their birth certificates in public buildings. These various measures restrict access to both political participation and resources such as financial funds and well-funded education. Wealth and political voice are specifically restricted for African Americans, women, and lower classes. Taken together, these policy changes amount to a re-entrenchment of an upper class, white, male public and a furthering of neoliberal agendas through the very material disempowering of those outside of this network.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 In response to this massive shift in policy, progressive religious leaders in North Carolina founded a movement called Moral Mondays in 2013. This was initially a regular sit-in style occupation of the state legislature by a small group of protesters whose intention was to be arrested. This was in order to attract attention to state policy changes through a repetition of civil disobedience and police action that the media and public could not ignore. As the movement gained steam, The Reverend Doctor William Barber II emerged as the major public voice. Barber now travels throughout North Carolina and the United States giving sermons and has appeared on numerous television political discussion programs. Moral Mondays has tackled a wide variety of social justice issues. Barber’s public discourse and the movement’s activist positioning has addressed issues of racial, gender, LGBTQ, and migrant justice, labor protections and economic justice, access to public education and health care (including abortion access), tax reform, wealth inequality, and neoliberalism, including the relevance of corporate capital in North Carolina politics.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 In order to trace the links between the Moral Mondays conception of a public and that of the Republican-dominated state government, I begin by highlighting three major components of Barber’s discourse. The first is the scope of populations drawn into calls to action by Moral Mondays. Barber describes a vision of policy and law based in care for a wide variety of groups whose basic needs are being neglected. In a sermon, Barber states:
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 What manner of Christian takes away health care for their elders, their brothers and sisters, their neighbors, their family, and their children simply because they don’t like an African American leader? What manner of Christian punishes seven and eight year old children by taking their teacher’s aide from them? What manner of Christian dares call themselves moral who will increase the tax burden of the poor and the middle class while lowering it on the wealthy at a time when wealth in our nation is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 We’ve got to understand it’s all connected. We can’t just stand together when it’s, when it’s some, when its one issue. The same people attacking public education are attacking the LGBTQ community. The same people attacking voting rights are attacking the LGBTQ community. The same people attacking environmental justice are attacking the LGBTQ community. The same people that are attacking immigrants are attacking the LGBTQ community. The same people that are blocking health care are attacking the LGBTQ community.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Barber’s naming of an extremely wide variety of groups as part of a moral public is a major feature of his discourse. To what quality of power in North Carolina, then, does this technique speak back? In a study of voter suppression, Wang notes a shift in political discourse around voting from right to privilege around 2010. This shift was accompanied by explanations that positioned voting as defended by force and earned through past struggles. The possibilities of exclusion within a vote based on privilege are obvious. Those whose contributions are silenced or defined as unimportant will not be legitimate voters. When viewed as one pole of a dichotomy of privilege versus rights, a vision of voting based in democratic rights appears unproblematic. However, the Moral Mondays conception of a valid political body provides a way to read privilege and right as embedded within the same logics of exclusion. Nancy Fraser writes that “one salient feature that distinguishes liberalism from some other political-theoretical orientations is that liberalism assumes the autonomy of the political in a very strong form”. In other words, liberal democracy works towards a bracketing of inequality rather than an elimination of it. Since the separation of the political from other spheres cannot actually be achieved and structures of inequality are always legitimated through discourses that circulate society-wide, liberal democracy cannot but reproduce within it the same understandings and hierarchies.
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 1 Political access “earned” through rights is ultimately governed through a political sphere that defines rights through the knowledge forms of foundational structures of inequality. This is exemplified by House Bill 589, the 2013 voting law discussed above. House Bill 589 states as part of its title that it is an act to “protect the right of each registered voter”. The justifications included in the various sections of the bill use the terms protection, security, and integrity with regards to voters and the voting process. The bill was only repealed when challenged by the United States Supreme Court. That these measures making voting less accessible were conceivable under a logic of voting rights is revealing. The legal acceptability of creating stricter voter identification laws illustrates the exclusions possible within an ideology of voting as rights-based. The political sphere further excluded from participation groups already marginal to it. The exclusions that rest comfortably within the lens of voting as a right can also be seen in the logistics of public hearings. Recent scholarship on North Carolina government has shown an increase of tactics such as scheduling public hearings at times constituents are unlikely to be available or in remote sites as well as scheduling meetings in upscale locations where armed security guards dictate entrance.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Another thread that runs through Barber’s talk is the act of dissent as democratic voice legitimated by morality as opposed to legality. In a sermon dealing with activism, Barber’s loudly proclaims:
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 …the people must raise a dissent. It has nothing to do with whether or not we have the votes. It doesn’t even have anything to do with if they change. They may change. But we must for God’s sake make sure there is not a silence, that change ought to be and change ought to happen. We must raise a moral dissent because it is our calling.
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 1 This ethic of moral voicing is also apparent in the occupations of the state legislature. Legal limits did not define the ways in which protestors could be heard. In fact, the very illegality of refusal to vacate political space was levied into aims of the movement. Arrest became not a silencing or disappearance but a way to be heard when one’s political expression was denied. This discourse of voicing through extra-legal means runs counter to neoliberal conceptions of democracy. Laura Kunreuther critiques an “ideology of the voice that… connotes ideas about empowerment, speech, and authenticity that project a historically specific notion of personhood”. In her work on development in Nepal, Kunreuther notes that this concept of the voice has emerged through processes of democratization and development in which “the figure of voice and neoliberal discourses of democracy arise together through a semantic connection made between transparency and directness in descriptions of voice”. Legitimate political voice, then, is defined through recognition of those deemed valuable under neoliberal agendas of governance. These discourses of transparency and voice also obscure the ways that liberal democracy protects its political sphere through legal silencing. Through the use of political recognition as the ultimate arbiter of rights to participation, these discourses connect speech, empowerment, and personhood in ways that allow unrecognized commentary on governance to be seen as less valid as well as those legally silenced to be officially inaudible. A moral legitimation for voicing provides a foundation for those voices not recognized by institutions.
¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 1 The final point of Barber’s that I will discuss is his depiction of history. Barber commonly highlights aspects of history with major roles in racial inequality and racial justice. These include court battles such as Plessy vs. Ferguson, Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, and the 2012 removal of pre-clearance from the National Voting Rights Act (NVRA). Barber also grounds his personal history in post- Brown vs. Board of Education anti-segregation battles, stating “that’s where my introduction to the movement was born”. This statement was made as his sermon moved between the rationales behind Moral Mondays and accounts of major legal events surrounding the Civil Rights Movement. Rhetorically, his personal history ties together the two movements into one: “the movement” to which he was first introduced as a child. Manning Marable describes two long-standing narratives of race in the United States. The subaltern narrative routinely battles with the narrative circulated by schools, media, and cultural and political institutions. This dominant story “is that America has always been the world’s finest example of ‘democracy’; that our Founding Fathers crafted a Constitution that preserved and guaranteed basic freedoms to all”. In fact, Marable notes, US democracy was structured to “significantly restrict minority access to public decision making” and “race was deliberately used to restrict democratic processes over several centuries”. Barber’s insistence on important events in a subaltern history of racism provides a dissident view of liberal US democracy, one in which racism has been legalized. He references lone dissenters fighting against majority opinions. This speaks to the ways in which racism is not only procedural and legal, but inculcated in values and beliefs. Talal Asad writes that within the historical encounter between Europe and the Other, certain understandings are “made… acceptable to that moment”. For Asad, this process of acceptability is crucial for understanding colonialism. Barber’s historical narrative illustrates how racism has been deeply acceptable, so much so that dissenters are few. Barber’s histories point to the fact that democratic governance can exclude without appearing illegitimate.
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 1 This discussion of Moral Mondays discourse is telling of an awareness of the convergence and impact of language, representations, and historical narratives. Barber’s savvy around discourse and rhetoric is important because it reveals a deep understanding of the ways in which domination is legitimated as well as the deeper meanings of exclusionary tactics. I return here to Abu-Lughod’s analysis of resistance as informative of power, but with an agentive twist. While Foucauldian theories of fields of power are sometimes criticized for leaving no room for agency, those excluded from access are often able to see the logics and means of their oppression with an insight that has been necessary for survival. Barber has highlighted what he calls racist “code words”. He notes circulating discourses, at one point describing then Governor McCrory’s labelling of activists as “outside agitators” as “historically plagiarized” from George Wallace. Barber also uses his media appearances to disseminate competing discourses around political issues. In numerous television appearances, speeches, and sermons, he repeatedly refers to North Carolina’s transgender bathroom law (HB2) as “Hate Bill 2”. He also points out the ways in which describing HB2 as a “bathroom law” is a way of controlling the narrative around it and obscuring its anti-worker imperatives. Geoff Eley writes that the Habermasian public was founded on an erased “sectionalism, exclusiveness, and repression”. The contrasts between the public sphere represented in dominant narratives and its reliance on exclusions achieves force as a cohesive, comprehensible whole through hegemony. Eley, citing Raymond Williams, notes that hegemony is sociality “organized by specific dominant meanings and values”. With his highlighting of discourse, Barber is attempting to reveal the contradictions within a hegemonic whole.
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 In his exegesis of Antonio Gramsci’s work on hegemony, Stuart Hall observes that “in a society like Britain, the idea of ‘nation’ has been consistently articulated towards the right” and “intimately bound up with imperial supremacy, tinged with racist connotations, and underpinned by a four-century-long history of colonization, world market supremacy, imperial expansion and global destiny over native peoples”. Hall’s account of the underpinnings of the concept of the nation in Britain bear a remarkable resemblance to the effects of new policies in North Carolina discussed above. These are policies that target African-Americans’ legitimacy as members of a political body, shift responsibility for basic needs onto individuals and communities, and situate protection of women and children within legal regimes controlled by white men. My point is that Moral Mondays, through the discourses disseminated by The Reverend Dr. William Barber, disputes these policy changes at the level of “how the terrain has been structured, historically”. Barber notes racist code language and historically based discourses of exclusion as a path to challenging the logic upon which laws like HB589 and HB2 exist.
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 2 What, then, are the qualities of the public envisioned by Moral Mondays? This public is one in which legitimate membership, and the viability of one’s voicing, are not dependent on official political recognition or the approval of the concomitant dominant public. Simply “raising a dissent” is voice. Being arrested in peaceful protest is as well. In fact, it is the very lack of recognition by a political establishment intent on an intensification of exclusions that allows these voices to attain legitimacy. This relates to the extreme inclusiveness of Moral Mondays. Barber’s constantly widening scope of interpellation of disenfranchised parties into an aggrieved public is not simply an additive approach. Rather, the dissent rests on flexibility itself. The lack of limits on membership questions the boundaries that maintain a supposedly separate political sphere as well as public/private distinctions upon which a white, masculine public rest and through which they maintain power. By including nearly all possible types of communities and people, the legitimacy of the political boundary itself is called into question. Barber’s call for voices to be raised also subverts the cost/benefit rationality of neoliberal capitalism. He states: “… and the people must raise a dissent. It has nothing to do with whether or not we have the votes. It doesn’t even have anything to do with if they change. They may change. But we must for God’s sake make sure that there is not a silence”. In this sense, Moral Mondays does not disseminate its anti-exclusion message through a logic of capitalist rationality. Its raised voices are illogical according to this.
¶ 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 House Bill 2 provides a striking example of the ways in which Moral Mondays tapped into the underlying logics of right wing power in North Carolina. The transgender bathroom bill legislated the bodies that could move into gendered spaces within public buildings. It established control not only over entrance into bathrooms but over the sort of existence that must be maintained in order to maintain full access of public space. In fact, considering bathrooms as an inescapable need, the reality of HB2 was that it effectively barred some people from public and political institutional spaces in North Carolina. HB2, like the Moral Monday legislature occupations, functions through the interrelated nature of physical presence, access to political and institutional spaces, and means of being recognized politically. Moral Mondays’ interweaving of physical occupation, open political sphere, and democratic-moral voice was prescient of the way in which power would come to operate more frequently under a right wing government.
¶ 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0  The Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear (Boston: Beacon Press, 2016).
¶ 23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0  Ibid. While Abu-Lughod situates this as an intervention into studies of small scale, uncoordinated acts of resistance, it is also helpful for understanding movements that involve a high degree of planning and coordination.
¶ 25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0  Richard Fausset, “North Carolina Governor Signs Law Limiting Successor’s Power,” The New York Times, December 16, 2016, accessed December 21, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/16/us/pat-mccrory-roy-cooper-north-carolina.html.
¶ 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0  Anne Blythe, “US Judge to NC Counties: Restore Names of Voters Recently Purged from Polls,” The News & Observer, November 4, 2016, accessed December 21, 2016, http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article112622158.html; Tony Pugh, “Voter Suppression Laws Likely Tipped the Scales for Trump, Civil Rights Groups Say,” The News & Observer, November 10, 2016, accessed December 20, 2016, http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/election/article113977833.html; William Wan, “Inside the Republican Creation of the North Carolina Voting Bill Dubbed the ‘Monster’ Law,” The Washington Post, September 2, 2016, accessed May 20, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/inside-the-republican-creation-of-the-north-carolina-voting-bill-dubbed-the-monster-law/2016/09/01/79162398-6adf-11e6-8225-fbb8a6fc65bc_story.html?utm_term=.8c238860d453.
¶ 27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0  See Robert Barnes, “Supreme Court Won’t Review Decision that Found N.C. Voting Law Discriminates against African Americans,” The Washington Post, May 15, 2017, accessed May 19, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/supreme-court-wont-review-decision-that-found-nc-voting-law-discriminates-against-african-americans/2017/05/15/59425b1c-2368-11e7-a1b3-faff0034e2de_story.html?utm_term=.f53ca34f3797; Sean Milford, “Photo Identification at the Ballot: Election Protection or Voter Suppression?,” Missouri Law Review 80; Ian Vandewalker and Keith Gunnar Bentele, “Vulnerability in Numbers: Racial Composition of the Electorate, Voter Suppression, and the Voting Rights Act,” Harvard Latino Law Review 18.
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0  See House Bill 589, North Carolina General Assembly 2013 Session; Wang, Politics. Voter challenging is a practice legal in some states in which poll watchers hired by a political party or other organization challenge the eligibility of certain voters on election day.
¶ 29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0  See Anne Blythe, “NC Supreme Court Vacates Racial Justice Act Decisions,” The News & Observer, December 18, 2015, accessed May 14, 2017, http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article50478335.html.The North Carolina Racial Justice Act allows death row inmates to challenge their capital sentencing if they prove that racial bias was a factor in sentencing.
¶ 32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0  Joe Marusak, “NC Judge Dismisses Cases against 8 Moral Monday Protesters,” The Charlotte Observer, August 15, 2014, accessed May 16, 2017, http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/article9152060.html.
¶ 33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0  Herbert Buchsbaum, “Budding Liberal Protest Movements Begin to Take Root in South,” The New York Times, March 18, 2014, accessed May 20, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/19/us/protest-disrupts-georgia-senate-session-on-bill-to-block-medicaid-expansion.html.
¶ 34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0  With its wide-ranging focus, Moral Mondays exists within a long tradition of social justice discourse in the United States. In light of my analysis of Barber’s insistence on an alternative historical narrative below, it is important to note that Moral Mondays did not invent this wheel. Activists that confront racial inequalities often come to be understood as solely that. However, dissident actors such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Shirley Chisholm, and the Black Panthers have long made economic disparity, poverty, homelessness, and food access integral parts of their anti-racist policy visions.
¶ 35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0  Story of America, Moral Lens of Justice — Rev. Barber’s Most Compelling 7 Minutes to Date, Story of America, 7:29, January 21, 2014, http://www.storyofamerica.org/barber-7.
¶ 40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0  Nancy Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy, in Habermas and the Public Sphere, ed. Craig Calhoun (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992), 121.
¶ 44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0  Lynn Bonner, “Federal Judges Find NC Legislative Districts Unconstitutional,” The Charlotte Observer, August 11, 2016, accessed December 20, 2016, http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/politics-government/article95087442.html; Michael Wines, “Ruling Preserves Voting Rights for Thousands in North Carolina,” The New York Times, November 4, 2016, accessed December 20, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/05/us/north-carolina-voting-rights.html.
¶ 49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0  Story of America, Jesus Fought Injustice, He Did Not Join It —Rev. Dr. William Barber, YouTube, 38:25, August 12, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68-2ZuvHyDU; Story of America, Moral Lens.
¶ 50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0  See Milford, “Photo Identification,” 298. The 2012 changes to the NVRA removed the requirement that states with historically high levels of race-based voter suppression get federal approval before making changes to voting laws. Removal of this section destroyed the real power of the NVRA and opened the door for changes in laws meant to decrease restrictions on voting across states. See Story of America, Injustice; Story of America, Moral Lens; Between 2012 and 2015, the number of states with voter identification laws grew from ten to 34 Wang 2010, 82).
¶ 56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0  Talal Asad, “Two European Images of Non-European Rule,” in Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter, ed. Talal Asad (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1973), 104.
¶ 58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0  Real Time with Bill Maher, Real Time With Bill Maher: Overtime – Episode #325 (HBO), YouTube, 9:21, July 22, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-IV6kKWr1Q. In his appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher, Barber points out the ways in which the word “headache” has appeared in various depictions of anti-racist protesters.
¶ 59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0  Story of America, “I am a Conservative Christian” Rev. Barber Speaks to Church in Appalachia, YouTube, 53:32, September 10, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dz0szoK7-0.
¶ 60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0  NC Forward Together Moral Movement, Hate Bill 2: NC NAACP Addresses Dangers Buried in Mislabeled “Bathroom Bill”, YouTube, 47:29, April 9, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wV3V7YC7svc; TYT Politics, Hate Bill 2 Is NOT a Bathroom Bill — Rev. Dr. William Barber, YouTube, 18:02, May 15, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jp7L7fPUCXo.
¶ 61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0  See TYT Politics, Hate Bill 2 Is NOT a Bathroom Bill — Rev. Dr. William Barber, YouTube, 18:02, May 15, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jp7L7fPUCXo; House Bill 2, North Carolina General Assembly 2016 Session. HB2 prevents cities and counties from passing local regulations related to wages, working hours, benefits, employee leave, or child employment.
¶ 62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0  Geoff Eley, “Nations, Publics, and Political Cultures: Placing Habermas in the Nineteenth Century,” Transformations: Comparative Study of Social Transformations 42 (1990): 19.
¶ 64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0  Stuart Hall, “The Problem of Ideology: Marxism without Guarantees,” in Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, ed. David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen (New York: Routledge, 1986): 43.