Embracing Solidarity: Unemployment and Moral Monday
Since the beginning of the Iraq war, there have been rallies and actions in which I considered participating in civil disobedience. Each time, I couldn’t. I was either in school, looking for a job, or couldn’t risk having to pay bail because, like so many, I am poor. Honestly, I also think it’s because I was afraid to get arrested without anyone I knew. Whatever the case, I admired the hell out of all the brave people that took most powerful form of protest by standing together and being arrested for what they believed in, demanding change and fighting injustice regardless of the repercussions.
Today, I am in a space in life that my employers (thank you, Sarah and Ian) support me and my political views. I am grateful that I am at a point where nothing hinders my ability to risk arrest as part of the North Carolina Moral Monday Movement.
I am still poor, but I decided to not let that stop me this time. Several years ago, I was unemployed and depended on unemployment benefits. I am infuriated that 70,000+ of my sisters and brothers in North Carolina will lose their unemployment benefits as of July 1, along with the possibility of up to 100,000 more in the coming months, all because the mean-spirited, greedy, short-sighted majority of Republicans run the state with unchecked power. That is the final straw. It’s one of the many reasons I decided to take this step.
I’ve heard many people argue that the long-term unemployed are lazy and just want a free ride. I refuse to listen to that bull any longer.
How can people be so horrible and heartless? I have three college degrees, including a Masters. I searched for jobs daily and could not find one. I was not lazy, stupid or incompetent. I just needed a job in an economy that renders them few and far between. I read today that there are over four million people in the South fighting for only about 1.5 million jobs available. I also read that North Carolina will be the only state that no longer accepts federal funds for unemployment and we have the fifth highest unemployment rate in the country.
How could anyone be okay with doing something that can potentially destroy thousands of families, leaving them homeless and without food? These politicians need to take responsibility for what they have done and help us all find a way out of this mess they’ve created. Washing their hands of their role in bolstering mass homelessness and desperation is just not going to work. I’m sick and tired of this injustice, and so angry at these heartless GOP politicians that insist on hurting the people of NC. I refuse to be on the sidelines any longer.
I watched and read a lot of news the week prior to my arrest. I also watched videos and read testimonies of North Carolinians sharing their stories about Moral Mondays. The collective outrage and our collective action inspired me so much that I realized nothing could stop me from being front and center anymore. I decided that I would be both heard and seen come the 8th wave.
Why did I wait so long?
With all of my anger and fierce passion against this right-winged congress, many have asked why I waited until the 8th wave of the Moral Monday protests to do civil disobedience. I think I was just numb from all the horrible policies Republicans are ramming down our throats. Maybe the numbness was a form of self-protection. I was, quite frankly, over it. I wasn’t sure if my voice mattered. Even though I felt like that, I still attended most Moral Mondays. For most of them I was with my twelve year-old nephew. That is a powerful motivation. I am committed to playing a role in helping him to understand the way power works, the position he will be situated in and the choices he will have to make as a white male in this country.
Another fear was losing my new job. I dreaded asking my new employers if I could take a day off because I was choosing to be arrested! I might not be released until the wee hours of the morning. I might not be able to be at work the next day. But, I was wrong! On the Tuesday after the 7th Moral Monday, I got to work and was greeted by them laughing, saying they were surprised they hadn’t gotten a call from me last night asking for bail money! They said they fully supported the protesters and they would support my decision to participate in civil disobedience! I wish everyone had employers like I do! I started making plans to risk arrest with the 8th wave of brave folks that would be taking a stand for women’s rights, healthcare, and the unemployed.
A few days before the event, I had an idea I would share with my fellow brothers and sisters. I decided that I was going to wear a T-shirt and invite people to sign it if they wished they could risk arrest but for whatever reason couldn’t.
I walked through the largest Moral Monday crowd yet with a sign and markers in my hand, inviting people to sign their names and join the rest of us going in. The best moment for me during this time was meeting a large group of teenagers who were very excited to sign the shirt. I have so much faith in our youth. Keep moving my little brothers and sisters, keep moving and keep fighting the good fight! We can’t do this without you!
I only got through a small portion of the crowd before I had over 100 signatures. I wish I could have gotten to more people, but the time had come to go in to the General Assembly building and face the zip-ties.
We marched through a tunnel made of supporters on each side of us. There were about 120 of us willing to risk arrest and proud to be together.
We sang movement songs and chanted. I saw people I loved in the crowd cheering for us. I felt humbled and teary. When we got into the legislative building, we held hands and sang loudly and listened to amazing people share their stories. At one point, the police gave those of us standing in front of the chamber doors a five minute warning before starting to arrest people. I guess I started to look a little worried because a man who was holding my hand squeezed it tightly and smiled at me. A few minutes later, my sister made her way through the crowd (I love you dearly, Bridgette Burge), took my phone and gave me a sweet kiss on the cheek and a huge hug. I swear that after that I knew I was doing the right thing. The woman I most admire would have taken this step with me, but couldn’t. So with that hug, I absorbed her energy and took her strength and spirit with me. I felt so clear then, like I was embracing all of the best parts of myself: an advocate for the common good and a fighter for social justice. I felt like we were all doing that together. We are lucky we live in North Carolina – a state with such amazing, strong, righteous people!
The one minute warning was given. With the wonderful songs and the support of thousands of people in the background, I heard the words: “You are under arrest.”
Oh boy, the zip-ties were on and I was being escorted to an elevator with a few others. They took us down to the basement of the legislative building where we waited to be processed. While there, we sang songs like, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, the national anthem and “The Hokey Pokey” and other silly songs. We were a lively crowd, even though some of the zip ties were painful and some of the elders were struggling with the heat. (I felt defiantly proud that I had wriggled my wrists out of the zip ties.) Several women asked about my shirt and asked me to tell my story about why I was there. In turn they told me their stories and shared why they chose to take such a bold step. Some women were going through heavy personal strife; some were there representing others. A similar theme was that we the people of North Carolina were suffering at the hands of our leaders and we were not going to stand for it any longer! We would go the distance and not be ignored.
The officers then moved us in small groups to the back part of the basement. This is where they took or identification and our mug shots. They then gathered more information verbally to write on the outside of our envelope with our belongings. We were asked not to sing, or talk loudly before entering this part of the building so that the officers would be able to hear us ask they took down our information. We did stay quiet for the most part but like other places it was never too long until we were loud again. Eventually, the officers just gave up and let us do our thing. We did rejoin the men for a brief period at this point which was fabulous because I was able to hear a lot more amazing stories.
I was surprised at how much I found myself laughing through this whole process; we truly were an awesome group of loving supportive people.
About an hour later, they loaded us onto the bus. As we stepped out of the building basement into the parking garage and driveway, we were greeted with loud cheers and supportive chants of “Thank you! We love you!” I was trying so hard not to just break down in tears. Thank you to all who stayed around and cheered us on. It is unbelievable how much that meant to us arrestees! I wanted to let supporters know we heard them, so I reached up (free of cuffs) and waved out the bus window, and I yelled back “Thank you and we love you too!” as we drove off. I don’t think I have ever felt so much love and support in my life – we were embraced by solidarity!
At the detention center:
After a short trip, we entered the detention center, went through another round of processing, and then were shuffled into a room where they began cutting off our zip ties. When the officer got to me, I handed mine to him. He just shook his head and laughed a little. Then the lady officers lined us up against the wall in groups of five and patted us down. Who knew my breast could be lifted up to my throat?
We were about to be moved to a bigger room, so we were put in metal handcuffs and chains, which is a bit much. It’s not like any of us were going to run away. They sat us on benches while we waited to see the magistrate. This is when it hit me hardest. The joking and silliness subsided as we looked around at other inmates in holding cells. I was a white privileged woman who chose to be arrested and knew I was going home that same night. My stomach sank. Other women in my small group held up peace signs, some smiled, and others just looked down. I just smiled and nodded my head. I couldn’t think of what else to do. The folks I fight with as a social worker and advocate are behind bars awaiting their release or next sentence, and are most definitely in real trouble with the law. It felt painful to be white and well educated at that moment. With that heavy awareness, I sat in silence until we were moved again.
After a while, we proceeded to another holding cell waiting for our name to be called to go see the magistrate.
At this point one of the women I had been with since the beginning said that her “bottle of cold wine in the fridge is looking better and better.” I started laughing and then starting suddenly cramping. Some advice to Moral Monday participants and to those that will risk arrest: stay hydrated!
In the last holding cell I met several more women. I met an eighty-our year-old, and a young woman with a six-month-old baby at home. I also met several middle-aged women that were brilliant in their own right. Finally, our names were called and we were all given our court dates. One woman, with a mischievous grin, announced to the magistrate that if her fall court date fell on game day, he’d have to change it. The whole room roared with laughter! I think we all hit some sort of delirium at that point. Thank heavens we had a very supportive magistrate with a great sense of humor.
After receiving our walking papers and promising to show up for our court date, we were then escorted through the release doors and into an elevator to greet our freedom; it was about 10pm. Again, I took notice of my privilege, was pained and grateful, and I pledged to stay active. We walked outside greeted by more cheers from people who were gracious enough to come out and continue showing their support. I talked to the amazing volunteer lawyers and other folks and was told to check certain boxes on forms and someone would show up to court on my behalf. Thank you so much to everyone who volunteered their time to help us and donate to our cause.
We were given rides to Pullen Baptist Church where we were greeted by more cheers, lots of food, and tons of water! I honestly couldn’t think again until Wednesday afternoon as it took me that long to recover from dehydration. I am so blessed to have been able to take such a bold step with so many and truly understand the meaning of solidarity, bravery, support, love, and empowerment.
The question I get more now than anything is, do you think you made a difference? HELL YEAH, WE DID! When I hear that the GOP is pissed at us, I know we are doing the right thing! You can’t ignore us and you must stop hurting us. Do right by the people of this state! FORWARD TOGETHER, NOT ONE STEP BACK!