North Carolina Republicans hold the governor's mansion and a super-majority in the state legislature. They've used their power to ram through bill after bill to aid the wealthy at the expense of the poor.

But the remarkable Forward Together coalition, which has been staging weekly "Moral Monday" protests of as many as 80,000 people, has managed to worry Governor Pat McCrory and his fellow Republicans.

McCrory and his allies are increasingly isolated lately. Even many grassroots Republicans have denounced their policies, like turning down Medicaid health coverage for 500,000 people in one of the nation's most impoverished states. McCrory, a former Duke Power executive who has been reluctant to rein in Duke's pollution of state rivers with coal ash, has an approval rating of 39 percent, with 45 percent of voters saying they disapprove of their governor, according to a recent Public Policy Polling report.

The Reverend William Barber, the leading voice of the Forward Together coalition in North Carolina, found a very attentive audience when he spoke to more than 100 activists in Milwaukee last weekend. Rev. Barber, a key NAACP leader, forcefully underscored the clear common ground Wisconsin shares with North Carolina.

"North Carolina and Wisconsin have the most extremist governments in the nation," Barber declared. "In North Carolina, we have Governor Pat McCrory and Speaker Thom Tillis [now running for the US Senate], all funded by Art Pope," a wealthy local rightwing donor who works closely with the billionaire Koch brothers. The Kochs were also Walker's largest funders in his 2010 election.

Rev. Barber outlined how the North Carolina Republicans have aggressively used their super-majority to pass legislation: to make it harder for low-income people to vote; to raise taxes on 80 percent of state families while reducing taxes on corporations and the wealthy; to close down fifteen of the state's sixteen abortion clinics; to slash more funding from an already-starved educational system; and to permit virtually unrestricted "fracking" and offshore drilling.

But even in this unfavorable setting, the Forward Together coalition found a unique formula for progress, Barber said.

He shared this formula with an eager activist audience in Wisconsin. Here is a summary:

Drawing out the moral dimension: A movement can be most inspiring when it converts abstract policy directions into moral choices, Barber said. "The budget is a moral document. It shows where your money is going, and that's where your heart is."

Transformative fusion: The coalition has welded together a broad array of groups committed to a far-reaching set of principles rather than a safe, tepid lowest-common-denominator program. "We are committed to voter rights, worker rights, public education, women's rights (meaning abortion rights in particular), and health care."

Essentially, the Forward Together partners adopted the core elements of each other's programs and fully committed their organizations to them, realizing that no group could make progress without all advancing together. Barber called this approach "transformative fusion." He noted the experience of one of the state's few powerful unions (North Carolina's union membership is lowest in the nation, at just 3 percent) declining to join the coalition because they had hopes of cutting a deal with key Republican legislators.

But within a week, the union came knocking on the coalition's door, asking to be part of it after being shut out by the Republicans.

Projecting a human face: "We must put a human face on the issues, not talk in abstractions. Let those affected by the decisions speak for themselves," Barber said.

"That's been the genius of the fast-food workers' movement—giving a human face to the issue of low pay," he noted.

Forward Together combines the voices of victims with the expertise of activists familiar with the political process and academics steeped in the issues. "We want to be loud, but we don't want to be loud and wrong," he added.

Changing the terms of debate: "Our movement must be deeply moral, and translate issues into moral terms. We need to have a moral language that is not ‘left' or ‘right'—and how did the other side wind up with ‘right,' anyway? " he joked.

But Barber was deadly serious about the need to re-frame public debate by "changing the language" and phrasing the movement's goals in moral rather than strictly economic terms. "We can't be ‘left' or ‘right' if we are to reach large number of people. We must go deeper, to what Abraham Lincoln called our ‘better angels.'

Reclaim the Constitution: State constitutions almost invariably reflect strong democratic protections and moral impulses that are not part of the policies adopted by politicians in the pockets of corporate CEOs.

"We cannot allow extremists to hold up the constitution as if it belongs to them," Barber said. "Check out your state constitution and see how it measures up against what the extremists are doing, and hold them accountable."

Avoid partisanship: The temptation to align closely with progressive Democrats is strong, but acquiring a partisan label ultimately limits a coalition's effectiveness, Barber said.

"We try to frame our arguments in a way that gives moderate Republicans a place to move, and conservative Democrats have to do the right thing to avoid being seen as supporting the extremists.

"So we don't call the Republicans by their party name; we call them extremists. They hate that."

Be prepared for civil disobedience as essential to the movement: Nonviolent civil disobedience brings out the moral centrality of issues and shows participants' willingness to sacrifice. "We need a recognition that civil disobedience is vital," Barber said.

Forward Together uses defiance of the law to drive home its message on specific issues, and to show the breadth of North Carolinians' opposition to "the extremists'" legislation. So, for example, members engaging in civil disobedience on a particular day might be clergy of different faiths.

To systematically prevent a sense of isolation, Forward Together ensures that those choosing to be arrested are met at the jail when they arrive by supporters, who bring them food. The supporters again show up when the protesters are released on bail.

Offer a set of positive alternatives: "We cannot allow ourselves to be branded only as negative, so we have developed a positive program."

By combining these elements, Forward Together's "Moral Monday" protests have unified a surprisingly broad group of people seeking a new direction, and have challenged deeply entrenched elites.

"If we figure out how strong we are, they cannot win," thundered Barber. "They can only win if they depress and divide us."


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Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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