Madison's civil rights and labor rights advocates are hoping to learn something from a movement born in North Carolina that is spreading throughout the South.
The "Moral Monday" movement started in 2013 in protest of Republican efforts in the North Carolina statehouse to cut funding for education, Medicaid and unemployment benefits and to restrict access to voting and abortion services. Also called the Forward Together movement, Moral Mondays has, according to Ari Berman of The Nation, grown into a "multi-issue, multiracial, statewide progressive coalition, one that North Carolina -- or the South, for that matter -- has never seen."
Its leader, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, will be in Madison on Thursday, March 13, to deliver an address, "The People's Moral Agenda: Anti-Racism, Anti-Poverty, Pro-Labor," at Bethel Lutheran Church, 312 Wisconsin Ave., at 7 p.m. Barber, who is also president of the North Carolina NAACP, and Yara Allen, who has led singing protests in North Carolina with fast-food workers and unions, are also expected to join the Solidarity Sing Along at noon outside the Wisconsin Capitol.
"The parallels between North Carolina and Wisconsin are undeniable," Wendell Harris, vice-president of Wisconsin NAACP, said in a news release. "We welcome Rev. Barber -- one of the greatest civil rights leaders of our time -- with great enthusiasm."
Wisconsin NAACP is one of the sponsors of Barber's trip, which is being organized by the Labor & Working Class Studies Project, a coalition formed in 2010 to connect the University of Wisconsin and community on labor and working-class issues. Other sponsors include the South Central Federation of Labor, Interfaith Coalition for Work Justice, Havens Center for the Study of Social Justice, and Fountain of Life Church.
Patrick Barrett of the Labor & Working Class Studies Project says labor and civil-rights groups are looking to create opportunities for dialogue around such local issues as growing inequality, low-quality employment, voting rights, poverty and labor rights.
Barrett says the process involves "identifying that those issues are connected" and "connecting movements that are concerned with those various issues."
"We're hoping to learn from the experience of North Carolina, as much as we can in a brief visit," adds Barrett. "We see it as a long-term process."
Jonathan Rosenblum, a labor lawyer, activist and frequent participant in the Solidarity Sing Along, was instrumental in bringing Barber to Madison.
He says he heard references to Wisconsin's protests against Gov. Scott Walker in their movement and began posting news of their activities on the Solidarity Sing Along's Facebook page.
Also, he adds, "One of our singers added on to their 'anthem' for the sing-along, so 'Forward Together' has become one of the most popular tunes of our sing."
On a trip to North Carolina in October 2013, Rosenblum was invited to attend Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina to hear Barber preach. There Rosenblum introduced Barber and the church's choir them to a Wisconsin version of "Forward Together" and joined them for a round of "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize" before discussing the reverend's visit to Madison.
Rosenblum, who collaborated with Barrett to arrange Barber's trip, says it wasn't easy getting the busy reverend to Wisconsin.
"We were rejected three times because of the many things Rev. Barber was doing."
Rosenblum says Moral Monday activists see the denial of collective bargaining to North Carolina's public workers as a vestige of the Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the South.
"That reminds us how sometimes workers' voices are suppressed just to keep certain communities out of government," he says.
That, Rosenblum adds, "has been underlying a lot of why the Solidarity Sing Along hasn't gone out. It isn't just song. It's that people want to find new ways of building coalitions around these core civil rights."