More than 40 people were arrested in Atlanta on Tuesday as the progressive Moral Monday movement expanded deeper into the hostile territory of the South. Protesters were charged with engaging in a loud protest at the Capitol, a misdemeanor under state law, after rallying against Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s refusal to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act.
Georgia’s Moral Mondays mirror the movement that started last year in North Carolina after a series of restrictive measures in that state, including cuts to unemployment benefits and a bizarre bill in which motorcycle safety and anti-abortion measures were pieced together, were pushed by a Republican-led legislature.
While this week’s Moral Monday was forced by a St. Patrick’s Day legislative closure to be Moral Tuesday, there have been protests at the Georgia state Capitol since January, Herbert Buchsbaum at The New York Times reports. The paper calls Moral Mondays a “budding liberal movement” in a part of the country where the many focuses of the liberal cause, including public education and voting rights, have been hit particularly hard. Medicaid expansion is the main issue in Georgia and South Carolina, where federal funds to pay for the program have been turned down by both states. In South Carolina, the movement goes by Truthful Tuesday.
Instead of being just a liberal novelty and, at worst, a fringe movement, protesters hope to translate their persistent campaign into meaningful politics in a region dominated by conservatism. Employing an almost-aggressively Southern metaphor, Buchsbaum calls the entrenched Republican control of government in the South, “as solid as cold grits," adding that for Democrats, mere survival trumps influence.
The movement, however, is a determined one. One Moral Monday activist, Timothy McDonald, told Atlanta’s WSB-TV, "It's growing, and we know that this is not an event. This is the movement, and it's going to take time.”
“We are at the beginning of a new Southern strategy. The changes we need to make in Georgia to transform the state are going to take years. But with the changing demographics of the South, our victory is inevitable. This train has left the station,” Tim Franzen, lead organizer behind Georgia’s Moral Mondays, told the Times.
One of the 41 protestors arrested — who were mainly senior citizens, according to the Atlanta Constitution-Journal — included Dr. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Rev. Martin Luther King was pastor, who staged a sit-in outside Deal’s office. Warnock told a group of about 100 supporters, “It is no exaggeration to say we are here on a matter of life and death,” report Janel Davis and Chris Joyner at the Journal-Constitution. Protesters were also arrested when they tried to block the door to the Senate.
Georgia Sen. Judson Hill, a Republican, supported Deal’s decision not to expand, calling Medicaid “a bill that Georgia and America cannot afford,” while Georgia Sen. Donzella James, a Democrat whose husband is also hospitalized, called out Republicans for opposing expansion on political, not financial, grounds, the Journal-Constitution reports.
While there are busy days ahead as Thursday marks the final workday of Georgia's current legislative session, the movement doesn't look set to retreat any time soon.