Subverting Democracy Is Not Partisan. It Is Immoral.

Activists Speak Out on N.C.'s 'Racially Discriminatory' Voter ID Law, Struck Down Last Week
Moral March in Raleigh, N.C., in Februar 2014. EPG_EuroPhotoGraphics / Shutterstock.com

On Friday of last week, a federal appeals court in the former capital of the Confederacy spoke with moral clarity against provisions of a 2013 North Carolina law that “target[s] African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”

We cannot ignore the record evidence that, because of race, the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history.

It was a victory for multiethnic democracy and the potential of beloved community in America, for sure. But it was also a vindication of the moral movement that knew this law was the last stand against our power to become the America we’ve not yet been.

Since the summer of 2013, we have called this law — which the Fourth Circuit struck down on Friday — a monster voter suppression bill. It was the first and the worst of many voter suppression measures to pass through state houses since the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision stripped the Voting Rights Act of its power to guarantee fair elections in this country. In many ways, it performed the new Southern Strategy of James Crow, Esq., which attempts to hold onto power as white voters become one among many minorities in this country. It is a strategy that necessarily depends on old fears, racism, and divide-and-conquer tactics.

When this law was passing through the North Carolina state house in the summer of 2013, our Moral Monday protests drew national attention. Americans could not understand why tens of thousands of people showed up week after week and hundreds risked arrest in an outcry against their democratically elected representatives.

Our answer, in short, was that North Carolina’s General Assembly had subverted democracy to get into office and was working to further suppress future votes that would take them out of power. They only arrested us to try to silence dissent, so those arrests were thrown out by a Superior Court judge. Earlier this year, the courts ruled that the General Assembly had, in fact, engaged in racial gerrymandering. Last Friday’s ruling confirms that their voter suppression law was, in fact, illegal.

We have always insisted that some issues are not left versus right, but right versus wrong. Racism is not a liberal or conservative issue. Subverting democracy is not partisan. It is immoral. It’s just plain wrong. Thousands of North Carolinians knew that and were willing to put their bodies on the line. Last Friday’s decision is a vindication of their sacrifice.

Observers of our Moral Movement have often questioned whether moral dissent is really effective in contemporary American politics. But the resistance we have met is confirmation enough that this is the struggle of our time. If there were not power in moral, fusion organizing, then those who oppose us would not have invested so much in trying to suppress our political power. They would not have spent so much on legal fees over the past three years. As the used to say during in South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle, “A dying mule kicks the hardest.”

While we celebrate last Friday’s victory, we also know that this issue is bigger than North Carolina. Because we have learned the power of moral fusion organizing, we are on a national tour with The Revival: A Time for Moral Revolution of Values, bringing the challenge of a moral high ground to the nation. A few weeks ago, we were in Cleveland, where black, white, and brown; Muslims, Unitarians, and Baptists got together to listen to the voices of people who are hurting and revive the heart of democracy. We took our Higher Ground Moral Declaration to the Republican National Convention, but they refused to receive it, threatening to arrest ministers who paused to pray for our nation.

Last week, after holding revival services in Philadelphia, we delivered the same declaration to the Democratic National Convention. Their leadership invited Rev. Barber to share this moral vision on the final night of the Convention, and he summarized what we have learned from a decade of struggle in this Moral Movement:

The Fourth Circuit’s ruling in our favor is a confirmation to us that, if we work for moral revival in this nation, God can bring about the Third Reconstruction that we so desperately need. If our experience is any guide, we should expect resistance. But we serve the God who can make a way out of no way. So we say with one voice, “Forward together, not one step back!”

Rev. William Barber II

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber is the founder and president of Repairers of the Breach. Together with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, he recently published The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is co-founder of Rutba House and director of School for Conversion. He is coauthor of The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement.

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