At least four of the 80 or so people arrested in Moral Monday protests during the Georgia General Assembly’s 2014 session are expected to talk about their experiences during Monday evening’s Statesboro stop on the “Jailed for Justice” tour.
The NAACP and other organizations in the Moral Monday Georgia coalition have planned the 16-city tour to highlight the causes they took to the Capitol in Atlanta this past winter. The NAACP Georgia State Conference president, the Rev. Dr. Francys Johnson, a Statesboro-based attorney and minister, says the movement also has its sights on the November election and the Legislature’s 2015 term.
“The good thing about this movement is that it’s nonpartisan but it’s certainly political, and it has at its crosshairs changing the political discourse in this state, changing the political outcomes in this state, reorganizing the priorities of this state, and I’m really, really excited about that,” Johnson said.
Open to the public and organized as an NAACP mass meeting, the Jailed for Justice event will start at 6:30 p.m. on the Bulloch County Courthouse steps.
The movement’s stated goals include a sustainable, pro-labor economy; well-funded, quality public education for all; access to quality health care; criminal justice reform that ensures equality under the law; and the protection and expansion of voting rights for marginalized people. Some participants address other issues, such as abortion and birth control rights and fair treatment for immigrants.
Besides Johnson, other Moral Monday “arrestees” slated to appear include Tim Franzen, Megan Harrison and Jackie Rodriguez, according to event coordinator Sheila Francois, the Georgia NAACP Freedom Summer Fellow at Georgia Southern University.
Franzen serves with the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker-affiliated organization. He and Johnson often were identified as Georgia Moral Monday’s leaders during the Atlanta protests. Rodriguez is Georgia president of the National Organization for Women, and Harrison is a Georgia NAACP Freedom Summer Fellow.
Open discussion will be sought, Francois said. Other speakers also may appear. Usually three to five arrestees visit each town.
‘Moral Monday 2.0’
Modeled on a movement in North Carolina led by the Rev. Dr. William Barber, that state’s NAACP president, Moral Monday Georgia had participants go to the state Capitol to voice positions generally regarded as liberal — at least in contrast with those of the state’s Republican-controlled government.
Among other issues, participants fought the loosening of gun carry restrictions realized in House Bill 60.
In its most publicized stand, Moral Monday questioned Gov. Nathan Deal and other state lawmakers’ active opposition to expanding Medicaid coverage in Georgia.
“The Moral Monday legislative push this past legislative session was mostly defensive,” Johnson said. “We were trying to stand against a rollback of early voting days from 21 to six. We were successful at that. We were standing up against ‘stand your ground’ laws and the ‘guns anywhere’ bill, which we were not as successful against those measures.”
Next session, for what he is calling “Moral Monday 2.0,” Johnson wants to go to the Capitol with many more people than took part in 2014.
“I am going across this state preaching the message of Moral Monday because I don’t intend to go back to the Legislature with a hundred. I intend to go back with thousands,” he said.
Besides the 2015 session, the movement has designs on the Nov. 4 statewide election. A voter registration drive is underway, with more than 50,000 Georgians newly registered and a goal of 125,000, Johnson said. Efforts to encourage actual voting also are planned.
The Moral Monday efforts overlap with the Georgia NAACP’s work for a 2014 Freedom Summer. Fifty years ago, the original Freedom Summer brought volunteers, many of them college students, from across America to the Deep South to expose the atrocities of segregation and “amplify the concerns of the nation.” The new Freedom Summer is meant to “amplify the concerns of Georgians,” Johnson said.
Freedom Summer Fellows are college students, including some from Harvard University and the University of Michigan, as well as in-state schools including Paine College and Georgia Southern, working on the NAACP and Moral Monday projects in Georgia.
Johnson was one of about 40 Moral Monday activists arrested in what was widely reported as a sit-in in front of the governor’s office on March 18, a Tuesday.
“When I was arrested, I was only simply trying to talk to my governor, and I was arrested in a public building for wanting to talk to my governor,” he said.
Instead of meeting with him, Deal sent the Georgia State Patrol to arrest him, Johnson said.
Johnson wanted Deal to explain why Georgia could not afford $70 billion in economic stimulus that would result from expanding Medicaid and “why he thought the people of New Jersey and Ohio and Arizona deserved expansion of Medicaid in their Republican governors’ mind, but not in his mind.”
Although Johnson insists that he and other leading ministers did not go to the Capitol on March 18 intending to be arrested, he defends civil disobedience as a tool for change.
“This is a country that is built on the idea of civil disobedience,” he said. “When our forefathers signed their names on the Declaration of Independence, that was an act of civil disobedience. … Throughout the history of this nation, we have only moved forward when citizens have determined for themselves that they were sick and tired of the status quo.”
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9431.