Heeding Our Prophets: 21st Century Freedom Ride

As the world celebrates Nelson Mandela, one of the great prophets of justice in the 20th century, we must also remember that, for nearly three decades, South Africa jailed him.

At the same time, here in the U.S., Bob Zellner was being jailed for insisting that white and black people should be able to eat, ride and vote together.

Fifty years later we celebrate these men. But we cannot forget their challenge.

Indeed, fifty years later, Bob Zellner is still getting arrested. Next Saturday, Bob will join us as an elder for our 21st Century Freedom Ride. If you’re in Durham, NC, on the 14th or Nashville, TN, on the 17th, we’d love for you to come out and join us for public events with Bob and the other riders.

But just this week, Bob was convicted along with 11 other Moral Monday arrestees for speaking and singing against unjust laws in the NC General Assembly this past summer. His reflection on the verdict in a good intro to the kind of reflection we’re looking forward to on the Freedom Ride. Hope you can come out and join us.

The practice of law, like organizing, consists of large swaths of boredom punctuated by periods of exhilaration.  Our trial yesterday in Raleigh, NC for the crime of witnessing at the state legislature was an instance of high excitement. A person off the street would have understood every word they said while learning more about the first amendment than any first year law student.

This morning the News and Observer said, “Scott Holmes and Irv Joyner, defense attorneys from Durham, argued that the protesters had been wrongly charged, that they were exercising rights to free speech and to petition their lawmakers. The defense attorneys also sought to have the charges dismissed on the basis that the building rules were so overly broad and vague that they were unconstitutional.

Joy Hamilton, a former Wake County district judge, who was appointed by the state Administrative Office of the Courts to preside over the bulk of the misdemeanor trials heard so far, agreed, but said one of those rules “governing visitors” on the second-floor of the building was specific enough to warrant a conviction of the dozen protesters before her.”

In a strange twist of names, Joyner is actually Sherlock and Holmes is the sidekick, “Watson.”  Their examination of the state’s witnesses established every thing we wanted, which is not to say there weren’t periods of mind numbing repetition and hemming and hawing.  Dr. Barber leaned over to me during the long trial and whispered, “I rather take a beating in the movement than to sit through any more of this.”

After being arrested 19 times, charged with over forty crimes and being tried countless times, I finally understand my rights under both the NC and the US constitutions.  While the twelve of us disciples where convicted of crime, the judge was reluctant to find us guilty, even dismissing the state’s charges of disorderly conduct and failure to disperse.  She levied fines for trespassing and violation of the Senate rules and we expected to spend Christmas in jail.  The state prosecutor asked the judge to bar us from returning to the NC legislature if we were released pending appeal.   At Dr. Barber’s suggestion we decided to leave the legal questions in the hands of our capable attorneys, Joyner and Holmes, while doubling down on organizing.

Ordinary people are rising up now against the repression of their rights.  I met a retired schoolteacher from Wilson during lunch; she finally decided to get arrested when Art Pope published our mugs shots and addresses so we could be targeted by right wing thugs.

Information pickets have begun at stores owned by Art Pope the architect (along with Gov. McCory, Tillis, Burger, and other ultra right wing shills for the super-rich) of North Carolina’s anti-worker policies.

The furnace does not work in this old house I bought in Wilson, NC so I depend on the one fireplace.  Sometimes there are embers under the wood and it takes a long time to flame. One puff of breath will often cause it to burst forth.

As working people take to the streets Moral Mondays are spreading across the south and the nation. I can imagine local announcements in emails and newspapers, “The first Moral Monday for Montgomery, Alabama will be held at noon this Saturday in front of the Capital Building, just up Dexter Avenue from Dr. MLK’s church.”  Working people can demonstrate on Saturdays.

This past Sunday was the anniversary of Ms Rosa Parks’s sit-in on the bus.

Puff, puff.

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