During the super-heated comment exchange that occurred last summer when I posted several blogs here calling on participants of the Solidarity Sing Along to get a permit, one commenter likened the Sing Along to North Carolina’s Moral Monday movement and demanded to know if I would tell folks in North Carolina to get a permit or go home. I replied that there was a huge difference between the two efforts but my explanation seemed to have no effect on the outrage being flung in my direction. Some went so far as to say that I was making Blogging Blue look bad, which I took as a not so subtle suggestion that I was, perhaps, unfit to blog here.

Well, it’s been six months since that exchange occurred so I thought a follow-up piece might be in order to take a look at what’s going on with both the Moral Monday movement and the Solidarity Sing Along.

HKonJ, the sponsoring coalition behind Moral Mondays’,  is gearing up for a statewide organizing effort across North Carolina. The movement’s leader Reverend William Barber, President of North Carolina’s NAACP, is speaking in churches and colleges across the state to promote the movement’s 2014 kickoff rally in Raleigh, the state Capitol, on February 8th.  Barber is predicting the largest  event to date, and they plan to call out Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the GOP legislature for cuts to education, the failure to expand Medicaid, restrictions on abortions, the constitutional ban on gay marriage, and sweeping changes to how people vote.

And the movement has spread to both Georgia and South Carolina, ( which has taken the name “ Truthful Tuesday “ ) with rallies in both of those states held earlier this month calling on their respective governor’s to switch course and accept federal money to expand Medicaid.  All three statewide efforts intend to highlight the failure of their GOP controlled legislatures to meet a basic standard of morality in their advancement of retrograde and regressive policies adversely affecting, most prominently, the poor and working poor.

The Solidarity Sing Along, on the other hand, seems to have gone largely dark since early October of last year shortly after the ACLU of Wisconsin reached a settlement agreement in its federal lawsuit against the Department of Administration regarding free speech in the Capitol. While the settlement was hailed as a victory by Sing Along participants and their supporters ( the agreement required them to give advance notice rather than request a permit), my understanding is that the settlement also acknowledged the DOA’s authority to regulate activity in the Capitol Rotunda, which is contrary to many of the singers claims that the First Amendment was the only “ permit “ they needed, a claim which was endorsed by progressive notables such as Matt Rothschild and John Nichols, and reckoned unlikely by yours truly.

Subsequent to the agreement the bulk of the organizing efforts (beyond the week day Sing Along) seem to have centered on various fundraising efforts to help pay the singers fines and legal fees, and legal maneuvering designed to encourage the DOJ to drop charges against individuals who’ve been ticketed.

So clearly there is no real similarity between Moral Mondays’ and the Solidarity Sing Along apart from the arrests that occurred at each of them last year. The former is a coalition-building movement of statewide community organizing that’s growing into a regional phenomenon, the latter is a dwindling event encumbered by ongoing legal proceedings and the prospect of hefty fines for a number of participants. But it doesn’t have to remain that way.

In response to a commenter who challenged me to offer an alternative plan of action to the Solidarity Sing Along I wrote a piece titled “ Defending the Dream and Defeating Scott Walker “, in which I cited Florida’s Dream Defender movement as something to emulate, in particular their determination to find and register new voters to defeat Florida Governor Rick Scott in the November election . I suggested that United Wisconsin was the obvious organization to assume such a task, and I offered that my wife Shelly and I would do our best to find and mobilize new poor and working poor voters in our assembly district. I also sent an email to one of the core/founding participants of the Solidarity Sing Along and suggested that the their “ brand “ had a broad enough influence such that if a handful of prominent singers and Lisa Subeck of United Wisconsin were to hold a press conference on the steps of the Capitol announcing that they were suspending the singing in favor of catalyzing a statewide grassroots organizing effort ala the Dream Defenders, ( or even better, Moral Mondays), they might just set the progressive community in this state on fire. I never got a reply.

So I’ll make the suggestion again, this time publicly. The Solidarity Sing Along still has the opportunity to do more than just sing in the Capitol Rotunda. Issue a call to the NAACP, the Wisconsin Council of Churches, the LGBT community, leaders in the African American faith community, Womens groups, Tribal leaders, Hispanic leaders, the AFL-CIO and to peace and justice groups across the state to meet and discuss how to organize and fight back against the policies of Scott Walker and the GOP extremists in the legislature. Invite Reverend William Barber to come to Wisconsin and address the assembled crowd. You have the public profile, the people, and probably the connections to make it happen.

Let’s do more than sing. Let’s organize.

28 Responses to Moral Mondays and the Solidarity Sing Along

  1. Katrina says:

    The Solidarity Sing Along isn’t an organized group. There are people who work on a number of issues who sing when they feel like it but there is no leadership or planning structure. If you and United WI want to organize something I am sure that some of the people who sing daily will join you.

  2. Katrina,

    It doesn’t matter whether or not they’re organized. Everything I wrote still stands. The singers are known throughout Wisconsin and have influence in the progressive community. I’m suggesting that they use that influence for something larger than singing.

  3. Greg Gordon says:

    The sing along is a daily gathering of folks who, for the most part, are already doing all those wonderful things you want them to do. They are doing it as part of other organizations or in their professional careers, or both. To make the suggestion that they aren’t doing enough because their work doesn’t have the sing along brand stamped on it is silly. It’s just people singing. The DOA made them into first amendment heroes, but it’s still just people singing and keeping the Capitol doors open for everyone. Relax.

    By the way, a court ruling will soon be coming out vindicating the position that not getting a permit was the right thing to do.

  4. Greg,

    I didn’t suggest any of what you describe above. I suggested that the singers could use their collective clout to start a movement in Wisconsin. I guess I’m not sure what’s wrong with that.

  5. Greg,

    Here’s an exchange between you and Jessica Ferrer from Naked Capitalism last August.

    ” JF: What would victory look like for the singers? When do you think that victory will come?

    GG: The Sing Along is growing, and each singer has their own definition of victory. Scott Walker’s last day as governor will be a glorious day, but we have already learned that political victories like that are short-lived. Victory will be restoring Wisconsin’s traditional way of governing ourselves–with consensus, respectful dialogue, compromise when needed and fearless passion for progress. ”

    Isn’t what I’m suggesting a potential path to the definition of victory you gave to the interviewer? How will we restore Wisconsin’s traditional way of governing ourselves if we don’t get organized statewide? The interviewer also mentions Moral Mondays but you blow right by it and instead talk about the blossoming Sing Alongs in Texas, Michigan and Minnesota that are copying ” our model “, and yet six months after your interview the truly blossoming movements are happening in North and South Carolina and Georgia, as I wrote above.


  6. What you don’t seem to understand is that the Solidarity Sing Along is not an organization. It’s an event. Your argument is kind of like telling trick-or-treat to start fighting to end world hunger. I sometimes sing at the Solidarity Sing Along and I am one of hundreds who got arrested by police for doing so. But I go there as an individual, do not coordinate my appearances there with anyone, sometimes sing alone and sometimes sing over the noon hour with many others, and more often work while I know others are continuing their presence in the Capitol every day, singing.

    Sounds like you have some great ideas for organizing worthwhile efforts. Go for it. Many of the people who sing at the Solidarity Sing Along also have important actions that they undertake, alone or with other groups, or with others who also sing. One drop in the ocean that I worked on was an ActBlue page that raised $10,000 for candidates in statewide races.
    We all make our contributions in our own way and sure, we could all probably do more. But you just have it wrong — the whole point of the Solidarity Sing Along is that every weekday, from noon to one, there will be citizens in the Capitol rotunda singing to remind politicians that We Are Still Here, and to continue to voice the continued concerns about the continued rape of our state. The gathering will ebb and flow; no one knows who will be there on any given day; no one schedules and signs up and makes sure people will arrive… but there just simply is always someone there. That is what the Solidarity Sing Along is. Period.

    You contribute by writing articles. That’s great. You sound very frustrated that there isn’t more. Tap into that energy and do something with it. If “suggestions” don’t magically cause others to take up your ideas and do something with them, you can decide to do something with them yourself besides just suggesting to others what they “should” be doing. It seems counterproductive to berate others for the actions they do take that don’t seem as important to you.

    Have you met with United Wisconsin, or Community First, or the Urban League, or area unions, or neighborhood organizations, or OFA, or Progressive Dane, or any organization that might have the “brand” influence you’re looking for? You mention an article, and an email. I recommend that you talk with groups, meet with groups, and find one that is about the type of action that you seem hungry for, and stop looking to the Solidarity Sing Along as some organization that exists to defend your dreams.

  7. AnnieJo says:

    What a strange mixture of outright scorn for the Singalong combined with a touching faith that if the Singalong would just GIVE UP EXACTLY WHAT IT IS THEY DO, they could set the state on fire!

    Furthermore, just because the Singalong isn’t exactly like Moral Mondays, doesn’t mean it’s not-at-all like Moral Mondays. Both are standing up to the immorality of the administration, both are willing to go to jail for justice, both find strength in history and song. The Singalong, however, derives much of its particular character and staying power from its leader-less-ness, while Moral Mondays by contrast has had a powerful charismatic declared leader from the get-go… who happens to bring a substantial organizational power with a history of change through protest (NAACP) along with him.

    Each has advantages and disadvantages.

    Sorry about your disappointment that the Singalong hasn’t taken you up on your kind offer to be the one who pulls their strings. That’s not how they roll.

  8. nonquixote says:

    Interesting take Steve, and an excellent suggestion at the end. I do think real organizing is happening around the state, your example, the Solidarity Singers, bless their hearts and efforts, the residents of NW WI who are most directly impacted by the corporate grab for our public natural resources, there, along with the indigenous people who have demonstrated to protect that which sustains us all. In NE WI (and elsewhere) people organizing against the unregulated water usurpation and manure dumping, destroying the “shared,” public right to life, and any hope of a future pursuit of happiness, within a (literal) agricultural wasteland. Stirring coming from the citizens in the hearts of the Sand Counties, inspiration and birthplace of some of our most revered ecological philosophers’ ideas. LWVW, outstanding and as truly bipartisan an organization as I have ever had the pleasure to interact with. State and national political party politics, both major groups, bread and circuses without the bread, distractions while the corporate grifters pick our pockets and the media and consultants feather their nest for the next round of distortions and hype. Pick an issue, pick an actual person as your candidate to support, begin there, meet and share, one to one, then two to four, and you have a group, you have an idea that can become a movement. We all really already knew this.

    Very pleased to see some thoughtful comments coming from people who don’t normally de-lurk.

  9. blue cheddar says:

    I get the feeling you would like to scapegoat these radicals for the failure of the liberals and/or the Democratic Party. This is no way to build left wing power in Wisconsin.

  10. Jonathan Rosenblum says:


    Here is proof of the power of the Solidarity Sing Along. Every single one of your suggestions–without fanfare, without even Ed Hughes knowing about them–has already been in motion for months, and well before your earlier columns. The blooms on these idea flowers take time. But your notion that energy should be channeled away from the Sing Along defines where you are blogging “black and blue” not blue. The sing along, in all its actual diversity of themes and individuals (white, black, brown–want to see the photos?) and inventions (spokes of activism shooting off the wheel) as well as its astonishing display of resolve will someday be written up in more than their own book as a cultural body blow to conservatism. Here’s a sample of what is yet to come from North Carolina. You can contact me if you wish by the required email here but this will be my only post here. Here is the Youtube video giving a taste of what’s ahead between Moral Monday and the Solidarity Sing Along.

    • Jonathan,

      I don’t fully understand your comments somewhat cryptic references here and there,( who is Ed Hughes and what does he have to do with this? Keep in mind I live 250 miles north of Madison and 335 miles from Milwaukee) but I’m overjoyed that plans have been in the works well before I ever wrote them here. I have never claimed to be a genius, and there are plenty of readers here who will confirm that.

      I look forward to whatever it is you’re talking about and I hope it happens soon. I’ll be happy to eat my words if it all works out as well as you suggest.

  11. Martha says:

    From my vantage point, I can see merit to both points of view. Steve is correct in that the SSA ‘brand’ (please excuse the corporate-speak) is not being used to its fullest potential at this time. The commenters are correct in saying that the Singalong is not an organization that can assume the role Steve would like. We are just a daily shifting assembly of individuals who take time out of our day to make this corrupt, radical administration aware of the contempt in which it is held. As individuals, we may belong to one or more of the progressive or social groups that do the work Steve recommends. It would be excellent if those groups could make use of the SSA’s goodwill (more corporate-speak, sorry). I just don’t see how it could be done, given that the SSA is an event, not an organization. Any ideas?

  12. Blue Cheddar,

    I get the feeling you’re wrong.

  13. independent guy says:

    “Issue a call to the NAACP, the Wisconsin Council of Churches, the LGBT community, leaders in the African American faith community, Womens groups, Tribal leaders, Hispanic leaders, the AFL-CIO and to peace and justice groups across the state…”

    Couldn’t help but notice the absence of caucasian people in your minority list. Is there a reason for that?

  14. IG,

    The AFL-CIO is absolutely bursting at the seams with white folks, as is the Wisconsin Council of Churches, as are Wisconsin’s myriad peace and justice groups. And womens groups. And the LGBT community. White folks everywhere you go. The state is absolutely littered with them.

  15. Katrina says:

    I find it humorous that you keep telling SSA participants posting here that they are missing the point. Consider that maybe you are missing the point. The SSA, as others have pointed out here, is an event not an organization.

  16. The Danimal says:

    I don’t understand the point of this post as at all, nor why anyone would seek to criticize those who chose to practice civil disobedience/exercise freedom of constitutionally protected expression and sing.

    • The Danimal,

      Is civil disobedience something to be ” practiced “, like, say, a violin, or good dental habits? Does one wander around looking for opportunities to practice? Is that your understanding of the history of civil disobedience?

      Folks down in the rotunda like to cite King and Gandhi, but their particular ” practice ” of civil disobedience is actually more in the tradition of Thoreau. Gandhi and King organized and used civil disobedience as a component of a larger strategy with an intent to win something tangible. Thoreau refused to pay taxes in opposition to war and went to jail, by himself. It’s my understanding that his aunt paid his fines and he was upset with her for that, preferring to stay in jail. I don’t recall him organizing fundraisers or selling books to cover his lawyer fees or fines.

      So sing away, O’ The Danimal! But grow a spine and pay your own fines, for Chrissakes.

  17. Steve…you must never never criticize a disorganized religion.

  18. Ted Voth Jr says:

    Do I know you? From the Solidarity Sing Along? Have I sung with you? You might get a little better response, have a little more standing, with the us Sing Along types. If you came down and ‘practiced civil disobedience’ with us, and had come down and risked arrest with us. Indeed we are the law enforcement in the Rotunda: we enforce the 1st amendment every time we sing..

    Yes, civil disobedience is something to be practiced any time and every time, say, for instance, your government tries to restrict your rights. I think Thoreau would agree. In the circumstances I dont think hed even mind our fund raising to fight our cases in court.

    What does a doctor do faced with a sick person? He practices medicine. What does a citizen do when he encounters injustice by his government? he practices civil disobedience…

    As the Internationale, a song we love, says, Steve, ‘you have nothing if you have no rights.’ Some people dont ‘get’ this: I dont call them citizens, I call them slaves. ‘Which side are you on?’, another song…

    Heres a little something you might want to read from the Black Agenda Report: probably a little too Left for you, but Im reading your indifferent-to-the-Constitution stuff. Let me tell you down in Mississippi in the Civil Rights Movement in the late 50s-early 60s the Constitution was hot stuff:

    “Moral Monday: A Branding Exercise Blaming Republicans for Stuff Democrats Helped Them Do”


    • Ted,

      I just read the piece from Bruce Dixon at Black Agenda Report. Is it the view of most Sing Along participants that Moral Monday’s is a cynical, Democratic Party branding exercise, basically, a sham?

  19. Ted,

    I’m the only blogger in Wisconsin who wrote about Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant’s stunning upset victory over a democrat for a seat on the Seattle city council. I posted her inauguration speech here in its entirety.

    Maybe getting organized and winning something tangible is a little ” too Left ” for you?

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