Moral Monday and HB2

Barber120160425 Moral Monday 3rd anniversary & HB2

Wow. What a strange day. I don’t even know how to unpack it or process it. I just got back to North Carolina on Saturday after two and a half really intense weeks of struggling to find a voice to speak truth to power at the national level. I am planning to go hike on the Appalachian Trail to decompress and try to process some of that but there is work to do here. Today is the third anniversary of the Moral Monday movement and the Forward Together Moral Movement in North Carolina and the first day of the short session for the North Carolina General Assembly. There was a huge rally in Raleigh to protest a recent bill that the General Assembly pushed through in a special session about a month ago. The bill was allegedly in response to a city ordinance passed in Charlotte that officially allowed transgendered people to use whichever restroom facility they identify with. This state bill, alternately known as HB2, “the bathroom bill,” and “Hate Bill 2” overrode Charlotte’s city ordinance and made it illegal for any other municipality, county or city to pass any law that protects anyone from discrimination over and above state law. It made it illegal for municipalities to have contracting set-asides not required by the state for minority contractors. It makes it illegal for counties or cities to require minimum wage above the state level. It makes it illegal for state workers or residents to sue in state courts regarding discrimination. And the legislature is selling it as a bill to protect women and children.

I wasn’t sure where to start the day. In DC we were protesting to get big money out of politics and voter rights. I dressed as Uncle Sam for the rallies and wore a jacket with a bunch of corporate logos to symbolize a government unduly influenced (bought and sold) by big corporate dollars. I considered wearing that today with a toilet seat around my neck to symbolize democracy being choked by a legislature unresponsive to the people. Or maybe Uncle Sam in drag to show support for the LGBT community most directly targeted by this blatantly discriminatory bill. In the end I wore some jeans and a polo shirt because I wasn’t sure what symbolic speech from a straight white man would be appropriate to protest such a hateful bill. On the way out the door I grabbed a camera to try to document some of what’s going on in North Carolina and America.

I got to Raleigh and was not sure where I should park. I found a publicly accessible parking deck and decided to just cough up the cash for it rather than spend hours trying to find alternative appropriate parking and I walked toward the government buildings. I didn’t read the schedule closely because all of the Moral Monday events I have attended previously started on Halifax Mall behind the General Assembly building. So, that’s where I went. There was a large crowed listening to a speaker on a stage. I thought it was strange because it was only 1pm or so and I was pretty sure the rally for Moral Monday wasn’t scheduled to start until 3. I walked into the middle of the crowd and realized I was not with the people I expected to be with. I realized all of the signs people were holding were mass produced (AKA well-funded) and talked of protecting our women and protecting our children. I had walked into a rally for the people supporting HB2.

I was clearly out of place with my long hippy hair but I had a camera to hide behind. I wanted to talk to people to understand why they were there but I never worked up the confidence and I was also not confident with using my camera for video. I wandered around to take some pictures. I noticed that there were lots of press there. I took pictures of that. Press people get really weirded out when you take pictures of them which seems funny on the surface because that’s their job is to be out there in the public but I guess they really like to be in control of the narrative and they get nervous and suspect people of having some sinister agenda when they turn their camera toward the press… The speakers included a lot of legislators including the speaker pro-tem. I was surprised with the number of legislators involved in the rally and wondered what role they played in its organization. There were also a surprising number of black people there. They seemed to be mostly bunched together and somewhat separate from the rest of the overwhelmingly white crowd, but they were there and clearly supported HB2. I didn’t really expect that and I wondered what drove them to be there to support such a blatantly racially discriminatory bill.


Lots of the speakers used buzz words that sounded all too familiar,
“Protect our women”
“Aren’t we blessed to have men like this protecting us in our government?”
“I was attacked one time by a man”
“Keep our women safe”
“Convicting blood of Jesus Christ”
“Christian Nation”
“In these dark days”
Threats of violence “if I catch a man in the same bathroom as my daughter”

It was clearly activating images of fear and anger and a frame of Christian values of fire and brimstone and circling the wagons rather than love and gentleness. It was a recognizable call to protect ones vulnerabilities. Then a black preacher stood up and spoke. I heard him say, “I am brown. God made me this way. How dare they compare the struggle of black people for civil rights with this unnatural abomination… We need to stand our ground…” I couldn’t believe I heard those words coming from a black man and it broke my heart but I understood then why they were there. They are activated by the same “Christian” frames of otherness that the poor white man is and are afraid of and threatened by that otherness. I can identify with the desire to protect women and children and especially “our little girls.” This is a framework programmed into every American Man. This implied threat to “the most vulnerable among us” is a clear call to arms and action. I took some more pictures and wandered off.

As I slowly wandered away, I noticed a man standing off to the side, listening to the speakers and occasionally shaking his head. I asked him what he thought and if I could talk to him about it. I intended to interview him on video but I hadn’t used the camera in a few years and couldn’t remember how to put it in video mode. So I talked with him and tried to take notes. He had a lot to say and was so earnest and forthright with his thoughts. He trusted me not to twist them to some ulterior agenda or, was so driven to be heard, he had to share despite the risk. I hope I can summarize his words and thoughts without completely misrepresenting him. He was much more articulate than I and I can’t write very fast on small pieces of paper…

His name was Carl. He talked about how he didn’t think these views really represent the people of North Carolina. He was frustrated because he feels like people look at North Carolina as being behind the rest of the country. That NC has built a diverse population through its research base and university system with a welcoming spirit of inclusion but that gets lost on people who think North and South Carolina are the same place. Carl felt the gathering we were witnessing was “A bastion of people imposing their beliefs on others.” He didn’t think that represents particularly Christian or American values. He felt that those who wield power use divisive issues as tools to manipulate the masses and that if people really understood the full implications of HB2 they might think differently but they are caught up in this idea of needing to protect women and children from some imagined (other) boogey man. Carl says the way to break the impasse in today’s politics is truth. By removing deceit and ulterior motives and seeking understanding but he doesn’t think the media culture of quick soundbites lends itself to understanding. Trump, for instance, is a performer, tapping into people’s fear and anger and feeling that “other” people are encroaching on what folks think is theirs. People blame their feelings of insecurity on the “other.” Americans have opportunities that others don’t which is why people try to come here but Americans treat others as if they haven’t earned what Americans already have (implying that somehow they [the {white} Americans] have earned what they have)… Carl said if we can all share in each other’s stories and experiences it makes us all better. There was a lot more to this conversation but these were the notes I was able to jot down. I wish I could talk to him more because I really enjoyed hearing what he had to say but he had a phone call and had to excuse himself.

I turned around from my interview and was suddenly looking into a familiar face. It was my friend and mentor from my Boy Scout days who first introduced me to the idea that there were people with diverse sexual orientations, that those people deal with struggles beyond what the average teenager has to deal with and that they need and deserve support as they struggle to find and express who they are. It was disorienting and amazing to run into him on such a weird day. He was of course busy and in the middle of his work day but we exchanged information and agreed to meet later for coffee.

I wandered off again and rounding the corner, ran into a reporter finishing a report to his affiliate. I had been snapping pictures of reporters and news vans all morning because I was interested to see who was covering this and was curious if the same people were covering both the pro and anti HB2 rallies. I raised my camera to snap his picture and he became irate, put his Ipad in front of his face, and was very rude to me. I became defensive and was suddenly determined to get his picture because it suddenly seemed important that I find out exactly who he was and why he was so angry. His angry disrespectful words really rattled me and got my adrenaline pumping. I was shaking when I got to the anti HB2 rally and I had to go find something to drink to get rid of the dry mouth that comes with that sort of shock. Later in the day the same guy happened to see me and apologized for being so rude, which I really appreciated but it put me in a weird funk for quite a while.


The Anti HB2 Moral Monday Rally was much more colorful than pro HB2 rally. There were flags and T shirts and lots of hand-made signs representing all kinds of issues and organizations. There were lots of clergy from many different faith groups including Rabbis, Imams, Preachers and Priests. I’m sure there were plenty of Buddhists and atheists and secular humanists as well. There were kids and old people and lots of homemade signs and banners and artwork. I liked to see the diversity and the love and all of the people mixed together. There was no distinct group of black or brown people or straight or gay people or any sub group that was separate from the rest of the crowd (except some of the Unitarians who had yellow T shirts and all stood together…) I didn’t, however, see any legislators on the Moral Monday side of the legislature building.


Lots of people spoke and called HB2, “Hate Bill 2.” One speaker led a chant of “kill the bill.” Speakers pointed out that there has never been a documented case of a trans-person man or woman arrested for assaulting a woman or child in a restroom. They suggested that we think about addressing actual abuse where it actually happens. They mentioned clergy abusing parishioners, Domestic abuse in the home, victims of sexual violence who are not given the tools to heal and be whole and become violent sexual perpetrators themselves.
Another speaker said, “Everyone is beloved by God. Laws that discriminate are sinful.” And that this is not a disagreement between people of faith and other people. It is a disagreement between people of faith who believe themselves to be righteous and other people of faith who believe themselves to be righteous.

Another, “Every person is a whole person, deserving of their God given dignity.”
Rev Dr William Barber was the last to speak and he pointed out that, “The NC constitution guarantees ALL persons equal protection under the law!” That God lets the sun shine on the just and the unjust alike and the sun had been shining on us all day. That homophobia, race and class are being used as political wedge issues to divide people and drive elections. That to use our children to justify our hate is despicable. And that to stir up sexual and racial fears for election purposes is straight out of the Jesse Helms playbook.
After Rev Barber spoke we lined up to enter the legislature building to instruct our legislators on the will of the people as demanded by the state constitution. The group planning to stay after and risk arrest was in the rear to enter last and everyone else was to briefly enter, sit down symbolically and then exit. There was a group of people as we filed toward the legislature building holding signs and Bibles and screaming at the top of their lungs about how we were going to hell and needed to repent and be saved by the blood of Jesus. I happened to be walking with a 12 year old who asked, “Why is that guy yelling? And some other great questions that I didn’t have any good answers for.

So, this guy was there to cheer everyone on…


I was having a hard time with some of the language that the Anti HB2 crowd was using. “Hate Bill 2” and “Kill the bill” seem completely appropriate but ring of violence to me. And once inside the building, many of the young people chanted things like, “who’s house? Our House. Who’s government? Our Government.” Which I agree with but it is also a government of the people in the other courtyard who need to have their insecurities addressed. I am frustrated that I can’t see a way for the “two sides” to see that they are the same people and have similar desires of their government. I had a hard time connecting emotionally to the Moral Monday March despite agreeing with the basic tenets and demands.

As I was just about to enter the building it was time for me to meet my friend and I snuck away to get coffee. We talked about the political state of the world and my experience marching with Democracy Spring. It was amazing to have someone whom I have always looked up to suddenly appear in the middle of such a disorienting day and help me stay grounded and make me feel valued.