Finding "Moral" Ground

Duke professors join “Moral Mondays” protest movement in Raleigh
July 25, 2013

In response to North Carolina’s newly conservative legislature, several Duke professors have been participating— and getting arrested—in weekly rallies in Raleigh. Known as Moral Mondays, the rallies have drawn several thousand protesters, including faculty members from other universities as well as students and clergy members, who have assembled each week since late April.

The group of protesters, organized loosely by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, aims to bring broader awareness to the wide swath of legislation that will disproportionately affect “the most weak and vulnerable in the state,” says Willie Jennings, associate professor of theology and black church studies at Duke.

Among other contentious issues are the repeal of the Racial Justice Act (which allowed the use of statistical evidence to prove racial bias in capital-punishment cases), the approval of Amendment One (which defines heterosexual marriage as the only domestic legal union recognized by the state), and proposed cuts to teacher salaries, which are forty-sixth in the nation.

“The bills being passed...terminating unemployment relief, requiring voter ID, interfering with women’s right to control their own reproductive cycle, the effort to end the earned income tax credit—all these were an expropriation of power by a gerrymandered legislature,” says William Chafe, Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of history emeritus. “We did not do this with the idea of actually changing legislators’ minds. But we did hope to influence the governor and the countless civic and business leaders throughout the state who have benefited from North Carolina’s fifty-year history of being supportive of civil and human rights.”

Though some of the participating Duke professors have a history of joining social movements and protests, others are going public for the first time. For Jedediah Purdy, professor of law, the decision to let himself be arrested over these issues did not come lightly. “It’s a powerful thing, being in handcuffs,” he says. “But I had the sense that if it was important enough to support others, then I should do it, too.”

 Purdy sees a potential “long-term brain drain” from the Triangle and places like Duke that “depend on bringing people here with relatively liberal values.” Amendment One has “already caused recruiting problems,” he adds, and the buildup of issues is “changing North Carolina’s reputation.”