On November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln dedicated the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg on a portion of the grounds where so many had fought bravely and died in a war-changing battle just four months before. The nation’s first Republican president gave a speech that day that has lived on into the 21st century as a call to freedom, equality and justice. The speech ended with the famous words:
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
After the Civil War, during the period known as Reconstruction, the promise of a new birth of freedom was engraved into the Constitution with the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. All were adopted and ratified before 1871. The Thirteenth ended all slavery and involuntary servitude. The Fourteenth promised birthright citizenship and equality before the law. The Fifteenth provided for voting rights for former male slaves and expanded the electorate.
Although that Constitution was abridged and disregarded during the period of Jim Crow and legal segregation, a new civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s birthed a period known as the Second Reconstruction. New civil rights laws, new voting rights legislation and a mass movement—black, brown, yellow, red and white—Christian, Jew, Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist, Native American Spiritualist and atheist—joined hands to end Jim Crow and birth a new freedom once again.
After both the First Reconstruction after the Civil War, and the Second Reconstruction during the height of the Civil Rights and Freedom movements, efforts emerged to “redeem” white political power and protect white privileges. First white rioting mobs shot voters. Ku Klux Klan killers murdered civil rights advocates. Later followers of the so-called “racist populism” of Gov. George Wallace won power at the ballot box by simple voting. Always they played on the fears that some white people had about the prospects of political power wielded by black people. And now they are worried about the future demographic change that will turn white people into a minority and cause them, perhaps, to lose the prerogatives of majority status.
Today, almost 150 years after the First Reconstruction, in North Carolina that “new birth of freedom” is once again rising. Tens of thousands are marching under the banner of the Historic Thousands on Jones Street and Moral Monday. One hundred and sixty organizations have joined an active coalition that marches, rallies, and prays together. Almost 900 individuals have stepped forward and volunteered to be arrested. On February 8, 2014, at 9:30 in the morning, tens of thousands of North Carolinians began gathering at Shaw University in Raleigh for the Historic Thousands on Jones Street People’s Assembly. Led by the North Carolina NAACP and with 160 coalition partners, upwards of 80,000 marched that day in a rebuke of the policies of the state legislature. The state legislature was rolling back the gains of the past—including narrowing and restricting voting rights. But the overriding demands of the Moral Mondays are defense of labor rights, education equality, health care for all, equal protection under the law and voting rights.
These mobilizations constitute a new birth of freedom. They are also the most advanced struggle in the country against the Tea Party movement and its racist ways. By standing in defense of past gains AND moving forward at the same time, they have constructed a strategy to ultimately defeat the Tea Party movement. By putting forward a new “fusionist” strategy that melds all in defense of all, and all in support of all, the HKonJ-Moral Mondays constitute the best alternative to the Tea Parties insistence on every individual alone against every other individual.
The Institute for Research & Education for Human Rights concludes: Down with Tea Party racism! Forward Together! Not One Step Back!