Health care as a right, quality public education for all and opposition to state and local decisions they believe promote gun violence, limit voting rights and build and fill prisons for economic gain — these are things for which some Moral Monday activists are willing to go to jail.
Moral Monday Georgia made Statesboro the eighth of 16 cities on its “Jailed for Justice” tour.
In all, six people who spoke during Monday evening’s gathering on the Bulloch County Courthouse lawn had been arrested in protests during and after the 2014 Georgia General Assembly session in Atlanta. About 75 people attended the event.
In addition to four speakers billed as “arrestees,” the movement’s leaders — Tim Franzen, the Atlanta economic justice director for the American Friends Service Committee, and the Rev. Dr. Francys Johnson, the president of the NAACP Georgia State Conference — were charged with misdemeanors during last winter’s actions.
“It has been a long time since civil disobedience was the norm here in the South, but we have to acknowledge that what we’ve been doing to turn the tide hasn’t been working,” Franzen said, “and so civil disobedience really has two main purposes. … One is to shine a spotlight on injustice by putting our bodies and our freedom on the line, and the other is to obstruct an immoral or unjust mechanism.”
The American Friends Service Committee, affiliated with the Quakers, and the state NAACP took the lead among about 40 groups that support the Moral Monday movement in Georgia. The NAACP hosted the stop in Statesboro, Johnson’s adopted hometown.
Franzen is white, as were a majority of the 72 Moral Monday arrestees during the legislative session. Some reports put the total number of arrestees at 81, counting nine more people arrested during a protest at a University System of Georgia Board of Regents meeting after the Legislature had adjourned.
Jackie Rodriguez, 31, the state president of the National Organization for Women, was arrested three times. Twice, the charges were obstructing a lawful procession, and the last was obstructing traffic outside the Regents’ building, she said.
Her first arrest occurred during a protest at the state Capitol for repeal of Georgia’s “stand your ground” self-defense law and against House Bill 60, which opponents called the “guns everywhere bill.” Signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal, it took effect July 1, allowing people with gun permits to carry their weapons into some bars, churches, government buildings and certain parts of airports.
During the crusade for limits on guns, Rodriguez said, she was introduced to the mother of Jordan Davis. African-American and 17, Davis died in Jacksonville, Florida, in November 2012 when Michael Dunn, white and 45, fired multiple shots into an SUV occupied by Davis and his friends.
Emotion in her voice, Rodriguez said she had seen Jordan’s mother’s love for her son in her eyes.
“So I knew that I could not sit back in a state and know that there are mothers who have sons just like mine who raise and love their children and know in the back of their minds that they might not walk back in that door because of the color of their skin,” she said. “I knew that that was wrong.”
Actually, Florida’s “stand your ground” law was not invoked at Dunn’s trial, although he did claim self-defense. He was found guilty of three counts of attempted second-degree murder, but not of murder, after a divided jury led to a mistrial ruling on that charge.
Rodriguez’s other Moral Monday arrests occurred during protests for Medicaid expansion and against the Board of Regents’ ban on illegal immigrants attending Georgia’s top public colleges.
Moral Monday’s most publicized protests during the session were those challenging Deal and the Republican-controlled Legislature for their opposition to expanding Medicaid. Activists first held a demonstration, unfurling a banner and shouting, in the Senate gallery and later a sit-in outside the governor’s office, insisting that Deal talk to them.
Noting that she has health insurance, Rodriguez said she stood up for 650,000 people being denied coverage, many of whom could not participate in a protest because “missing a day or two of work meant their kids might not eat that week.”
Similarly, Megan Harrison, 24, who was born in Canada but is now a U.S. citizen, noted that she is not undocumented and so does not risk deportation for going to jail and that she has a job from which she won’t get fired if she does.
“And so going to jail for justice, we do it because we can,” Harrison said.
A Georgia NAACP Freedom Summer Fellow, Harrison also works with Hearts to Nourish Hope, an Atlanta organization, teaching high school-equivalent classes for low-income students.
She said she has paid for students to go to an emergency clinic for medical care when they couldn’t pay the $60 fee.
“Jailed for Justice: You can use your body as an instrument to look Nathan Deal in the face and say that you may have the power not to enact Medicaid, but you do not get to not look at me, and you do not get to say that I did not stand up for these people and that I didn’t do anything,” she said.
Moral Monday activists intend to carry their causes into the November statewide election and back to the Legislature in 2015, where they hope to mass thousands, rather than this year’s hundreds, of participants.
“If we’ve got to fill the jails in Atlanta and in Bulloch County, we’re going to do whatever it takes to change the political landscape to favor regular, everyday Georgians instead of the rich few that continue to bully the rest of us,” Franzen said.
He and Johnson invited people to join a “Moral Monday March on Georgia” to the Capitol Aug. 23 starting at 10 a.m. at Atlanta’s Woodruff Park.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.