Move Society Forward: An Interview with Ralph E. Moore Jr. (Part 2)
Nawal Rajeh interviewed Ralph E. Moore Jr., Community Organizer in Baltimore, MD, about his take on how the city and movements have changed since the African American Civil Rights Movement. Read part 1 of this interview here.
What have been the biggest issues you’ve been trying to address in your lifetime?
Economic justice is the one I’ve focused on most over the years. Various issues spill out from that; it’s been housing, it’s been hunger, it’s been education, it’s been jobs and it’s been anti-war. War efforts are costly, not just in dollars but where they affect our moral and ethical bank accounts. There’s deficit spending in those accounts. So I tried to focus in on economic justice issues.
Have you seen change in these areas?
The change has been slow–one step forward and one back. Unemployment has gone up and down, but down long enough and deep enough. Good jobs that pay a living wage are in short supply, and too much in short supply in cities, and the darker you are the more dismal that situation is. There’s still a great need for change in those areas. Because of this recent economic crisis–we could have been in much better shape but we fought at least two wars, and at one point three and four, and all of that is very expensive. I am constantly thrown by how much money we spend on national defense and how much households are willing to spend on guns. It’s expensive to buy these assault weapons! There’s really some craziness and at the same time all of that is going on we are talking about cutting back programs for children and the elderly. Society really needs much better leadership on what’s life giving as opposed to some of these other things that we’re doing.
Where do you believe the power for change comes from?
I think the only answer is that it comes from the ground up–citizen action engaged–and the leadership will follow that. Our leadership is really lacking now, either the government or the church–they have problems of their own. The government is really dysfunctional, the ideologies and racism as well as protecting the rich. And the Catholic Church (the church I’m a part of) has its own issues and has undermined its own. Every day people have to find some way to assert that.
I wrote a note recently on my church envelope (before the vote on same sex marriage in MD): “Please do not use this for any of your political purposes”. Not that my parish was blatantly opposed, but at other churches they were passing out literature and showing videos. Nonetheless, I wanted the message to go out and I was angry at the things going on here in Baltimore. We are our only hope. We have to figure out how to engage that. All of us have to find a focus, as opposed to being involved in every concern.
I think we are on the brink of an age of enlightenment. We are talking about ending the use of some guns, ending the death penalty; the Supreme Court will soon rule on guaranteeing equal protection to all under the 14th amendment, therefore not discriminating against lesbians and gays. Yet, it takes the citizens being vigilant and being active. We have to find ways to communicate beyond the standard media. And people are doing that. People are blogging, and publishing documentaries that are telling stories and educating people that way. I have great faith in human nature that people will find a way.
What do you see as the biggest obstacles to change at the community level?
I think some of it is the people are just trying to survive. Power and wealth continue to consolidate–they get bigger, stronger and greedier, so it’s hard in the face of that. We don’t have the government to help us like we once did. Your everyday person doesn’t have support. We used to be able to expect that the US Supreme Court would stand up for what’s right. In the 50s they said segregation is wrong. Since 2000 and GWB many decisions have come out like, money is free speech and corporations can spend unlimited amounts on campaigns. So we don’t have the court anymore, we don’t have the federal government–it’s hard for them to do right by people. And some of the churches are doing better than others, but the largest Church is racked and mired by the past and scandal so they are not totally in the modern world and all, and they don’t know how out of compliance they are with fairness and reality. Those things make it more complicated. I’m very confident in the human spirit and I think people will find a way to continue to move toward justice. I’m a student of the Civil Rights Movement and I’ve seen how difficult things were that people overcame–it was bad.
When the Brown decision did come out, for five years following, the Prince Edward County school system simply closed and gave vouchers to the white families so their children could go to private and parochial schools while giving the African American families nothing. That’s what people worked through. When I think about all those children who had to walk through a gauntlet of people screaming and spitting on them just to go to school! Some people were hosed down, bitten by dogs, lynched, shot, all of this. It wasn’t just African Americans- women went through a similar struggle. Women marched and demonstrated and organized and finally got that right to vote in 1920. People seem to think it was like magic but it was struggle. There was blood shed, and that’s the sad part of change in this country–that people have to go through quite a bit of physical and emotional violence to get what should be guaranteed by God and the Constitution and some people don’t have to think about it. If they have the right color skin and gender, then it’s automatically given to them.
I remain hopeful, knowing what people have gone through and what some people are willing to go through and that there are some people who are not affected by what’s wrong but are still willing to stand up for what’s right. That has always been there and it makes a difference! That’s what we have to lay our faith in. It doesn’t always have to be something extreme. We can make those decisions in our daily lives in terms of how we relate to one another.
What advice would you give to those who want to make change in their communities but don’t know where to start?
I would say do some reading and research, do some thinking, do some praying and talk to people that may have had a similar type of experience trying to change something. Find a mentor or have a conversation and I would urge people to keep their own spirits up. If they follow history they will see that change has come. They should keep being aware of that, and do get to work! You don’t have to know the answers to everything. When students sat down at lunch counters in North Carolina they had no idea where this was all going to go. You have to know what’s right and wrong and how to convey a message and get others to join you when you need to. One shouldn’t underestimate the human spirit and the sense of outrage. Everyone wants life to be better for themselves and especially for their children and grandchildren. What happened in the Civil Rights Movement and others is for all of us– it’s a dynamic effort to keep moving and to engage people to move society forward.
Today Ralph Moore Jr. continues his work on civil rights issues as well as advocacy for the community. He has spent the past ten years as Director of the St. Frances Community Center in Baltimore.
Click here to read part 1 of Nawal Rajeh’s interview with Ralph E. Moore Jr.
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The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.