While the size of the crowd on hand for the Moral Monday rally held in Charlotte July 24, wasn’t as large as those experienced during the last decade, the hundreds on hand delivered a message that packed a powerful punch.
Rally attendees took to the streets in humid temperatures of 85 degrees and up, coming together at the Charlotte Government Center in uptown Charlotte at 600 East Fourth Street. Important human rights, religious and political figures on hand included Moral Monday organizer Dr. William Barber, II; Bishop Tonyia Rawls, director of the Freedom Center for Social Justice; Judith Brown, executive director of Project 704ward, Pastor Laura Alexander Elliott of Soaring Unlimited Haiti and progressive advocate and former Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts.
Barber, now 59 and struggling with health and weight issues, addressed the crowd succinctly, despite the heat.
“We’ve got to focus, and let these people know what it is we want,” he said to the audience. “We don’t have time to waste. It’s too hot out here for that today and we’ve got to get our message out there.”
The theme of the rally was “Wake the Sleeping Giant,” in reference to the millions of people across the country and the many here at home that make up the 98 percent of the population struggling with the high cost of living, bigotry and discrimination, growing anti-immigrant and LGBTQ+ sentiment from the right, lack of a living wage, employment instability, inadequate healthcare, homelessness and a lack of affordable housing, as well as inflation that has led to serious food instability.
“For the soul of our democracy, we are continuing the push for a moral revival and the realization of a third reconstruction,” read a flyer that was circulated for the event. Individuals in the group that attended the rally carried signs and placards with messages such as “Poverty is the Fourth Leading Cause of Death,” “Poverty=Death,” “We Won’t be Silent Anymore,” “North Carolina Poor People’s Campaign: a call for moral revolution” and “Text MORAL to 38542.”
Perhaps the most telling of all the signs was one that specifically listed the statistics of economically challenged people across the country: “There are 140 million poor and low income people in the US. We demand to fully address poverty and low wages.”
Media coverage of the event was sizable, as was the contingent of Charlotte residents who spoke to the crowd, including individuals from the LGBTQ+ community.
“I wanted something more, a better life for myself,” said one woman who identified as Madeline, and a member of the LGBTQ+ community who addressed the crowd. “So I moved here with my fiancee to Charlotte for better opportunities. I thought I would be able to get a decent paying entry level job, with benefits, at a company I could grow with but that was not the case. I ended up getting a job with no benefits, no guarantee of hours and minimum wage.
“I realized it wasn’t right,” she continued. “And even though I continued to stay, I was told I was replaceable everyday.
“I’m unemployed right now but I continue to do what I can to survive. The places that I’ve applied they say, I don’t meet their qualifications, but I [know I] meet their qualifications on paper. Saying that I don’t need their qualifications is HR code for ‘they don’t want a masculine lesbian representing their company.’ I pray everyday that something will come up and I will be on top again.”
Judith Brown, the executive director of Project 704ward talked to the crowd about the healthcare crisis facing residents of Charlotte today.
“In the city of Charlotte up to 50 percent of the calls that come into the 211 coordinated entry are from people facing homelessness,” she explained. “Fifty percent of those people, are people with disabilities. As executive director of 704ward, I support people with disabilities as I navigate through our system of care, and right now it is more of a system of carelessness. We have the means to connect people to proper healthcare, but lack the whole heart to do it, across the city.”
Clinton Wright is a Durham resident, queer educator and a national organizer for the Poor People’s Campaign, as well as a social justice organizer with Reverend Barber. He was there for the presentation and could be seen darting frequently around the crowd and the stage area. When he finally took to the podium to speak to the crowd, he urged audience members to use the text option seen on the protest signs and placards to achieve important goals for the community.
“If you haven’t done it already, this is how we’re going to get plugged in,” he explained. “That will allow us to get plugged into a statewide action that is taking place in Raleigh in February so that we can grow this movement across the state and find ourselves in DC next June to mobilize poor and low income voters nationwide.”