The Legacy and Conditions That Inspired Moral Mondays in New York

By Jim Ercolano (Guest Blogger)

“The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself.”  - President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Moral Mondays (a non-violent protest movement started by the Rev. William Barber in North Carolina) has spread from N.C. to Georgia, to Florida, to Tennessee, to Michigan, to Eau Claire in the Chippewa Valley of Wisconsin, Faithful Tuesdays in South Carolina, and throughout the country. Not since the Gilded Age, the Great Depression and the Civil Rights/Great Society era have faith, labor, civil rights, and good government groups united against an unprecedented extreme of economic injustice and income inequality never witnessed before the 21st century.

 The origins of the Moral Monday Movement began in 2006 when the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (the home of the North Carolina State House) People’s Coalition, known as HKonJ, formed under the direction and leadership of Rev. Barber. That North Carolina coalition for the common good resulted in a 3,500 people’s assembly in February 2007 that developed a 14 point agenda including a call for quality public education, health care for all, affordable housing, a just wage or income support for all, and collective bargaining rights for public employees.

 The outrage that inspires such a movement includes the violation of such essential human and civil rights such as the massive voter suppression due to the weakening of the Voting Rights Act, cuts to life-sustaining social safety net programs, refusals to accept federal aid to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, throwing millions of people into destitution by not extending unemployment benefits, repealing the earned income tax credit in some states, etc.

 In New York State, Moral Mondays have been inspired by the Governor’s proposed budget that would reduce taxes on the wealthy and Wall Street while locking in austerity cuts for everyone else, and thereby increase our nearly four decade long expansion of income inequality.  This increase would only serve to worsen New York’s #1-in-the-nation status on income inequality.

As a youth working fulltime as a stock boy for Brooks Brothers (along with 2 other jobs, before I started attending graduate school in 1980), I never forgot that the cheapest hot lunch I could afford to purchase in midtown Manhattan at that time required that I spend a third of my take-home salary for that entire day’s work.  In knew back then - 30 years before a CBO report showed that the top 1% of earners saw a 273% increase in income compared to only 20% for the bottom 20% of earners between 1979 and 2009 – that something had gone horribly gone.

It is this income inequality crisis that makes clear the need for a moral budget in Albany, NY.  A moral budget must include not only fair taxation but also provide sorely needed funding for campaign finance reform to correct our “pay to play” system in favor of clean elections and governance that reflects “the common good” (instead of almost exclusively corporate interests), education, greater enforcement against wage theft violations, and programs to reduce growing poverty/hunger.

 Please join Faith for a Fair New York – a project of the Labor Religion Coalition of New York State, FOCUS Churches, Occupy Faith NYC, New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, The Strong Economy for All Coalition, Citizen Action of New York, and unions such as the CWA, PEF, and CSEA, etc… in Albany at the Capital Building on March31st, and many other events in New York City, Binghamton, Rochester, Syracuse, and other cities to call for a faithful state budget that values every New Yorker – regardless of class, income, stature or position in our society.

During a Bishop’s Conference in 2007, Pope Francis (then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina) talked about the injustice of “scandalous inequality,” where economic growth has “reduced misery the least – creating a situation of social sin that cries out to heaven.” Let us pray for the integrity and courage to adhere to our tradition of supporting and nurturing the common good, to do so in our daily interactions, in our town hall, in the voting booth, and in the shaping of laws and policies to benefit all our brothers and sisters in need.

“Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them; and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” - Isaiah 59: 7

Jim Ercolano is married with two daughters, and is a lay minister from St. Pius X Church in Loudonville, NY.  He’s a graduate of the Albany R. C. Diocese’s Formation for Ministry Program (now The St. Kateri Institute for Lay Ministry Formation), and his ministries include commentary on Catholic social teachings, public policy issues, and adult choir.  Jim has been employed in government and the private sector for 34 years, is a PEF Shop Steward, and voluntarily serves on project panels for the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC.