First, the announcement: Judson Memorial Church is hosting a retreat on Monday, June 8, with a rolling agenda from 3 to 8 pm, to reflect upon our shared values and bring Moral Mondays to New York City. Please join me for as long as you can and spread the word. I participated in a planning meeting for this retreat with interfaith and secular colleagues on May 18. Together we aired our outrage over the many injustices New Yorkers endure and framed our discussion in terms of developing a culture of organizing, intersectionality of social justice issues, and articulating a moral vision. We agreed that we experience “a multiplicity of belonging,” embodying different identities in different communities, and are brought together by an understanding that we are all human beings with worth and dignity. That understanding moves us to work for justice for everyone. Whether or not we personally experience injustice, we must stand alongside our sisters and brothers who do – and fight for their rights.
The issues we readily identified in NYC included economic and educational inequality, mass incarceration and racism, homelessness, affordable housing and healthcare, voting and immigration rights, gender and LGBTQ rights, domestic violence, and climate change. The list, of course, goes on and on. Our emphasis was on participatory democracy. How do we support the empowerment of people whose voices are neither heard nor heeded? Can a coalition as wide and deep as the one that gathered for the People’s Climate March gain traction around moral issues? What does it take to sustain a moral movement in a diverse population?
Our inspiration is the Moral Mondays movement organized in North Carolina by Reverend William Barber II, pastor at the Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro and president of the state NAACP chapter. For him, it began a few days before Easter 2013, when the North Carolina Republicans, who in November 2012 took control of the state Legislature and the governor’s mansion for the first time in more than a century, “chose to crucify voting rights.” They pushed through changes to election laws, including reducing the number of early voting days, ending same-day voter registration, and requiring ID at the polls. “That’s when a group of us said, ‘Wait a minute, this has just gone too far,'” Barber said. Singing “We Shall Overcome,” a group of clergy and activists marched to the state legislative building in Raleigh and blocked the doors to the Senate chamber. On the following Monday, more than a hundred people gathered, and over the next few months the weekly crowd grew to hundreds and then thousands, spreading from Raleigh across the state and to other cities and states across the country.
We agree with Dr. Barber that this is a “deeply constitutional, deeply moral” battle against the worst forms of injustice. And that is why we are holding a retreat on Monday, June 8. We share his hope that the Moral Mondays movement can shift the culture of repression, inequality and exploitation.
A participant in the retreat planning meeting said, “Mortality is our deepest connection to one another,” and recalled past crises when New Yorkers, without hesitation, came to one another’s aid, sharing hardship and embracing goodness. That is what we are called to do now. In the words of the late Ethical Culture Leader Dr. Matthew Ies Spetter, “Some day each one of us will die. . . The only tragic element lies in lives unlived; lives that never made a commitment; lives spent without generosity; lives of hoarding instead of sharing. . . Life is not endless, but what we engage upon honorably, that will last.” To which I can only add: Amen.