I didn’t plan to write about the Mass Moral March, (also known as HKonJ) which took place this last weekend in Raleigh, North Carolina. But I was chided by another minister for tweeting about the Olympics opening ceremony, when the Raleigh march was surely more weighty and deserving material. I demurred, but I thought I should look further into it.
I watched some videos, looked at a bunch of pictures taken by participants (good to see what’s valued) and read news reports, blog posts and official organizing material.
To be clear: I don’t dispute that tens of thousands of people participated and that many (perhaps most) found it personally meaningful and vitally enriching. Also, that North Carolina’s political climate has pushed far to the right. But if the Unitarian Universalist part — I’ve heard there were a thousand or so present — is any sign of what Movementarianism might be (or become), we should fold our tents up now and save our heirs the bother. Not only must we be careful to cultivate a sensitive and responsive character, but also cultivate shrewd and effective methods for what we must be. What must be, not just doing what we desire.
I’ll state up front that I’m not impressed by the politics of the mass march. For one, I live in Washington, D.C., where they used to be common, and have seen them deflate in numbers and influence for years. Today, they border on performance art. (See also, “Getting arrested to make a point.”) So the New York Times didn’t cover it? It wasn’t a national story. (It was well covered in the North Carolina press.)
And even when I took part in marches as a younger man, though the 90s, it was clear that their best days and staunchest advocates predated me. So the Raleigh march’s tag — “Most massive moral rally in the South since Selma!” — is a tell: wistful Boomers, here’s your second chance. And so while there are some people who honestly think they’re doing some good by marching, I can’t help but spy some Civil
War Rights Era re-enacting going on. Fine if that’s your goal, but that’s not what’s needed.
This march had three problems, for which there’s no easy answer except substituting another action.
First, there’s a name for New Englanders who come South to score political points; two actually. Carpetbagger is one; legislator is another. (Did you notice how some of the marchers made their North Carolina-ness plain on their T-shirts or signs?) It’s no secret that some of quite conservative members of Southern legislatures are about as Southern as a Moxie or a lobster roll. This is not 1964; the politics have changed, and Bull Connor is dead. (But you still need to live in North Carolina to vote there. Solidarity without power isn’t worth return postage.)
Second, can anyone for the life of me describe the desired and actionable outcomes of the march, in 25 words or less? The agenda was a long menu. Easy to imagine a fence-sitting legislator to say no to all of it, rather than having to defend parts of it. (I’ve read about legislation being introduced by HKonJ but — guessing at a few titles — don’t see anything that made it to committee.)
Third, the march went to such effort to be moral and “non-partisan” (as described in the organizing documents) yet looked both under-powered and coded as Democratic. Were there advocacy trainings? Legislator visits (by actual North Carolinians)? If so, I’ll withdraw some of my objections.
The various goals of the march organizers are quite noble and praiseworthy, and so perhaps that’s all the reason some out-of-state Unitarian Universalists needed to show up. But I’d have sent cash to pay c4s to organize North Carolinians instead.