This reflection was written in response to the Winter 2015 immersion course during which we traveled to North Carolina to join the Historic Thousands on Jones Street Moral March and learn from the North Carolina NAACP and the Forward Together Movement.
“taken-over tongue of spirit-froth
like a fire-head bird beak
shouting syllables of flight over the street-brick
shouting like never-before-speech”
–“tongues-talk” by jim perkinson
On the morning of Valentine’s Day, thousands marched and rallied near the State Capitol in Raleigh. We chanted “Forward Together, Not One Step Back” and “The People United Shall Never be Defeated.” Hope was in the air! Speaker after speaker informed us of the draconian laws in North Carolina; as well, inspired us with concrete steps to transform NC towards justice. Rev. Dr. Barber spoke last and was the pinnacle of inspiration and hope. In his address, he told us that the words courage and heart share the same root word. And declared that we need to revive the heart of NC: to uproot regressive voting laws, to pay teachers and workers living wages, for immigrant and LGBTQI rights, etc. After his speech ended, the band played and the masses departed.
A few hours later, in Martin St. Baptist Church, our group with several other supporters of the Moral movement gathered together for a symposium with Rev. Barber alongside other important movement figures. At one point near the end of his talk, Rev. Barber said, “We need to learn to speak in tongues.” With my Pentecostal background, this resonated with me. It’s easy for us to talk about injustices using religious and moral language with church folk and people of faith. Rev. Barber though wanted us to speak with the tongue of the legislatures and politicians. He commended that we should carry a copy of the Constitution, both NC and US, at all times, and become acquainted with them.
These similar measures were used during the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s. Dr. King often quoted the Constitution. In his famous “I have a dream speech”, King stated,
When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
King saw the liberative use of the Constitution while many of its bearers used it as an oppressive tool. He cracked open an interpretive frame that railed against the other oppressive sections in the document including that black persons were only considered 3/5 of a person. Dr. King knew too how to speak in tongues well.
Speaking in tongues for the Moral Mondays movement ruptures the politics-as-usual business of the political theatre in North Carolina. Although, changing the discourse may never completely transform our democracy or as Audre Lorde reminds us, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” We know that systems are not transformed overnight. It takes more than an instant for one’s conscious to be raised. And this is why Moral Mondays has been going strong for nearly ten years; they understand that it takes time. And this is why they continue to make alliances, to build up communities from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, and speak in what tongues they need until justice stretches to all people in North Carolina.