We Are In a Crisis — a Moral Crisis
I believe that deep within our being is a longing for a moral compass. For those of us who are moved by the cries of our sisters and brothers, we know that, like justice, the acts of caring for the vulnerable, embracing the stranger, healing the sick, protecting workers, welcoming and being fair to all members of the human family, and educating all children should never be relegated to the margins of our social consciousness. These are not just policy issues; these are not issues for some left vs. right debate; these are the centerpieces of our deepest traditions of our faiths, of our values, of our sense of morality and righteousness.
We must remind those who make decisions regarding public policy what the prophet Isaiah said "Woe unto those who legislate evil ... Rob the poor of their rights ... make children and women their prey." Isaiah 10: 1-2
Martin Luther King, Jr. said 46 years ago in one of his last sermons that if you ignore the poor, one day the whole system will collapse and implode. The costs are too high if we don’t address systemic racism and poverty. It costs us our soul as a nation. Every time we fail to educate a child on the front side of life, it costs us on the back side — financially and morally.
Every time we deny living wages, leaving whole communities impoverished, it costs us on the back side. Every time we fail to provide health care on the front side of life, it costs us on the back side. Every time we attempt to suppress the right the vote, it tears at the heart of our democracy and the necessary foundations to establish justice.
The greatest myth of our time is the notion that extreme policies harm only a small subset of people, such as people of color. These extreme policies harm us all.
What we have witnessed here in North Carolina and other parts of our nation are wealthy extremists playing on the fears of working class white people. We have seen ultra-conservative politicians and their financial backers adopt a divide-and-conquer strategy, intentionally causing many people to vote against their own interests.
Our job is to unpack the truth about these extreme policies and show how they adversely affect all people. We approach this necessary task with two hopes. We hope that those forces who promote these extremists ideas and policies will be redeemed, and find a new way. And, if this redemption is not to be, we hope there will be a mass movement of moral dissent spreading across the nation, changing the actions and consciousness of all the people.
Building this Forward Together movement to take on the extremist forces requires, I believe, an indigenously led, state-based, state-government focused, deeply moral, deeply constitutional, anti-racist, anti-poverty, pro-justice, pro-labor, transformative, fusion movement.
This fusion framework has its roots in the successes of the structure of southern fusion movements that grew out of necessity from 1868-1898, or what we call the first Reconstruction. And these same roots were watered again during the massive changes the south underwent from 1954-1968, when the civil rights movement confronted Jim Crow directly, or what we call the second Reconstruction.
Today, as we pick up the plow of justice and equality one more time, beginning the difficult task of the third Reconstruction, the relationships we develop with our coalition partners must be transformative, not transactional. We must build an understanding of the connectivity between the issues that each coalition partner focuses on, and embrace their issues as we do our own. Our agenda, by necessity, is based on hope not fear. It emphasizes:
1. Pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that create economic sustainability by fighting for employment, living wages, the alleviation of disparate unemployment, a green economy, labor rights, affordable housing, targeted empowerment zones, strong safety net services for the poor, fair policies for immigrants, infrastructure development, and fair tax reform;
2. Educational equality by ensuring every child receives a high quality, well-funded, constitutional, diverse public education as well as access to community colleges and universities and by securing equitable funding for minority colleges and universities;
3. Health care for all by ensuring access to the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security and by providing environmental protection;
4. Fairness in the criminal justice system by addressing the continuing inequalities in the system and providing equal protection under the law for black, brown, and poor white people;
5. Protecting and expanding voting rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, immigrant rights, and the fundamental principle of equal protection under the law.
With this agenda we have seen hundreds willing to engage in civil disobedience to take on extremism and tens of thousands willing to mobilize over and over. The moral narrative that puts a face on the pain caused by extremism and at the same time points us to higher ground is a necessity at this time in American history. We mobilize in the streets, at the polls, in the halls of the state legislature, and in the courtroom. In the Forward Together moral movement, a dozen dos seem helpful to our success:
1. Engage in indigenously led grassroots organizing across the state;
2. Use moral language to frame and critique public policy, based on our deepest moral and constitutional values, regardless of who is in power;
3. Demonstrate a commitment to civil disobedience that follows the steps of the movement and that is designed to change the public conversation and consciousness;
4. Build a stage from which to lift the voices of everyday people affected by immoral, extremist policies — not a stage for partisan politics;
5. Build a coalition of moral and religious leaders of all faiths;
6. Intentionally diversify the movement with the goal of winning unlikely allies;
7. Build transformative, long-term coalition relationships rooted in a clear agenda that doesn’t measure success just by electoral outcomes and that destroys the myth of extremism;
8. Make a serious commitment to academic and empirical analysis of policy
9. Use social media coordination in all forms: video, text, Twitter, Facebook, etc.;
10. Engage in voter registration and education;
11. Pursue a strong legal strategy; and
12. Resist the “One Moment Mentality” – We are building a movement!
The Rev. Dr. William Barber II is president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and pastor of Greenleaf Christian (Disciples of Christ) Church of Goldsboro, N.C.