On Feb. 11, more than 80,000 people gathered in Raleigh, N.C., for the largest Moral Monday march yet — challenging Trumpism in Washington, D.C., and legislative overreach in our state. More important than the numbers, though, are people’s convictions: Principle, not party, is the reason why we march. We march because our deepest religious traditions have trained our bodies to stand up in the face of injustice.
Just this summer, a federal court struck down the North Carolina law, ruling that certain provisions of it “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” The court added, “With race data in hand, the legislature amended the bill to exclude many of the alternative photo IDs used by African Americans” and “retained only the kinds of IDs that white North Carolinians were more likely to possess.” Yet, importantly, restrictive voter ID laws in a number of other states remain on the books, and will be in place for Election Day.
DURING A FRACTIOUS election year marked by “how low can you go?” rhetoric, a hopeful word about democracy can be hard to find. When our civil society and citizenry seem evermore splintered by issues of race, immigration, wealth inequality, women’s health, guns, and ideology, who would dare speak with sincerity about finding common cause and increasing enfranchisement?
Rev. William Barber II, for one. In The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement, he argues that “fusion coalitions rooted in moral dissent have power to transform our world from the grassroots community up.” He believes that people committed to different causes, of different races and faiths and no faith, can come together to advance broader justice and perhaps even revive a democracy that has seen better days.
He believes this because he’s seen it: He helped forge the 2013 “Moral Mondays” protests in North Carolina that brought more than 100,000 people to rallies across the state protesting voting restrictions and corporate-funded extremist legislation, and had sister rallies in several other states. But this wasn’t a spontaneous eruption—the broad-based coalition behind Moral Mondays first formed in 2007 to advocate for expanding voting rights.
In this book Barber, a Disciples of Christ pastor and president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, uses autobiography and U.S. history to root the story—the successes, failures, and wisdom gained—of the work that led to the Moral Mondays campaign and beyond.
As a young pastor, Barber learned valuable lessons when he participated in a failed effort to unionize a textile factory in Martinsville, Va. In the aftermath, he meditated on Psalm 94 (“Who rises up for me against the wicked? Who stands up for me against evildoers?”) and found there the spiritual mandate for sustained moral dissent, even when political victory is out of sight. But he also took an honest look at his strategic failings; a key one was not bringing white pastors and workers into the effort, allowing the white factory owners to divide and conquer the workers along racial lines. His wariness from his own negative experiences with white people had tripped him up. He writes:
Today is the first time I have ever been arrested in Washington, D.C. I came for the same reason Southern political leaders petitioned President Grant to send troops in the 1870s — for the same reason Dr. King called upon Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to enforce federal law in the 1960s. I came because the interposition and nullification of extremists is blocking a Third Reconstruction in America today.
The leader of the “Moral Mondays” movement and a prominent New York minister are joining forces for a 15-state “moral revolution” tour to counter the nation’s conservative voices.
“Way too much of our national discourse has been poisoned by hateful language and policies,” said the Rev. William J. Barber II, who brought thousands to weekly protests at the North Carolina General Assembly, in an announcement.
If Donald Trump is telling the truth, he only recently learned that David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, is an avowed segregationist. Apparently, the KKK and its history have faded from many white Americans’ memory. Jeffrey Lord argued on national television this week that the Klan is an invention of “the left.” As native sons of the South, we could forgive these men their ignorance. (“Bless their hearts. They ain’t from around here,” is the polite way to say it.) But we can neither forgive nor ignore the way 400 years of white supremacy have been naively reduced to whether a candidate will disavow the support of a hate group leader. Racism lives on in policies that perpetuate racial disparities, with or without the KKK.
This tenth annual People’s Assembly was made up of black, white, and brown, gay and straight, rich and poor, labor and civil rights, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, people of faith and people whose moral visions are rooted in reason or politics. Planned Parenthood advocates marched in pink hats alongside evangelicals, singing the same freedom songs. Black Lives Matter activists linked arms with elderly white veterans. The Moral March did not rally around a messiah candidate but challenged all leaders to serve the common good with policies that are morally sound, constitutionally consistent, and economically sane. While a kaleidoscope of campaigns vie for everybody’s attention, this long-term, grassroots coalition to reconstruct democracy in America is a movement to hold all candidates accountable.
Our lawyers have made a strong case this week that the voter ID component of this legislation places an unnecessary and undue burden on voters — especially poor and African-American voters. We will ultimately win this fight in the courts. But this case is about much more than defeating voter ID laws. It is about a central question of 21st-century American politics: is a multiethnic democracy possible?
Jewish scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel introduced Martin Luther King, Jr. to a rabbinical assembly in 1968, “a voice, a vision, and a way.”
“The whole future of America will depend on the impact and influence of Dr. King,” Heschel said.
As a black, same-gender loving woman, who is a pastor, Bishop and activist, I can solidly say that my wife, children, grandchildren, and community have stronger allies, greater opportunities, and more protections than we have ever had. This is in many ways attributable to a growing number of black clergy who are no longer willing to stand idly by and watch large segments of the communities they were called to serve alienated, stripped of rights, physically abused, and treated unjustly. They have taken the costly stand against the notion that LGBTQ people are unworthy of God’s love and full acceptance within the church.
Black people’s humanity is still at question in the stories so many of us hear and tell in America. For many with a badge, a gun, and the legal shield of the state, black men and women — even black children — are not humans. Instead black bodies are threats and targets for rage, fear, and racially justified execution. When an officer of the law exterminates on the spot, we must ask ourselves what he was shooting. In his mind, Tamir could not have been a boy. He could not have been human. What did he see? And who bewitched him (and us) to “see things” when we are entirely sober?
As evangelical preachers in the American South, we’re excited to welcome our brother, Pope Francis, to the U.S.
We want to be explicit in our evangelical welcome because so many who claim to be evangelical are criticizing the pope for being political and not preaching orthodox theology.
NC NAACP vs. McCrory is a necessary interruption to the institutionalized racism that is killing black and brown people. For all the talk around “black lives matter,” Rev. Barber warns, we are in danger of only affirming that black death matters if we accept that the martyrs of Charleston deserve nothing more than the removal of a Confederate flag from their state house. Yes, the flags should come down. But if they go away while the unjust laws remain, then it may be even harder for us to see that the root of injustice is in an imbalance of power.
And the fundamental power of citizenship in this country is still the franchise.
When the Confederate flag was removed from the South Carolina statehouse Friday morning, Gov. Nikki Haley spoke solemnly of the nine black churchgoers who were shot to death less than a month ago at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“We have all been struck by what was a tragedy we didn't think we would ever encounter,” Haley said of the horrifying massacre before she signed the bill with nine pens that will go to the families of the victims. “Nine amazing people that forever changed South Carolina's history."
Haley also referenced the “grace” shown by the nine families when they forgave the white gunman. She said their grace helped usher the state toward this long overdue decision. The assassinations at Emanuel AME, followed by forgiveness from the grieving families, were similarly cited by several South Carolina lawmakers as their reason for voting to remove the flag. Black Deaths Matter. That’s the painful and dangerous narrative being developed out of South Carolina. Only Black Deaths Matter. Our nation is capable of doing the right thing – such as taking down the Confederate flag in the year 2015, a flag that represents the racist, immoral, unconstitutional defense of slavery and Jim Crow – but only when black deaths happen and are met by a response deemed acceptable. Ever since this flag was raised in 1961 to send the message that South Carolina would not honor equal protection under the law, tens of thousands of small and large protests have not been enough to move the power brokers to take it down.
Sojourners’ senior director of mobilizing Lisa Sharon Harper interviewed Rev. Dr. William Barber II on Jan. 21 about his new book, Forward Together, which chronicles the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina. Rev. Barber tells the story of this “fusion” movement that brings together environmental activists, criminal justice reform advocates, minimum wage organizers, and others to further a comprehensive agenda for equality. Rev. Barber states:
“The people fighting public education are the same people fighting criminal justice reform. The same people fighting criminal justice reform are fighting voting rights. The same people fighting against voting rights are fighting LGBT rights and women rights, and the same people fighting those are fighting environmental rights. If the extremists are cynical enough to come together, we ought to be smart enough to come together.”
“Coming together” for progress may sound like a cliché call for bland unity. But Rev. Barber presents this as a shrewd strategy toward passing legislation and creating mass action. Watch the Google Hangout below/above to hear more of Rev. Barber’s reflections on movement building and sustaining. You can join the next Moral Monday march on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2015 in Raleigh, NC. Click here for more details.
The Moral Monday movement, birthed by activists who protest the actions of the North Carolina General Assembly, will expand to 12 states on August 22 in a so-called Moral Week of Action.
The Rev. William J. Barber II, president of the NAACP in North Carolina and organizer of the Moral Monday movement, announced that Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania , Tennessee, and Wisconsin would join up.
Each state is mobilizing social justice activists and clergy to call out governors and state legislatures for “regressive attacks” on the people Jesus called “the least of these,” Barber said in a press call on August 19. Last year, more than 1,000 people were arrested during a series of Moral Mondays in North Carolina.
The objective is to push for the politicians to “repent and reform,” he said. But the marchers will have a daily theme promoting positive actions, not only decrying current policies, he said. Each state sets its own program, but most emphasize the same issues as North Carolina. After each rally there, participants will fan out to register voters.
50 years later, poverty is still an issue in America.
I cannot say I am the greatest dancer. I enjoy all types of music. The rhythms of my eclectic taste often entice me to move. Naturally, I easily find myself swaying this way or that way. My feet are not far behind. Only sheer foolishness would compel me to compare my dancing with grace and gifts of Beyonce, Tina Turner, or any champion from Dancing With the Stars. I know my limits. That’s one of the first steps to being successful: know what you can and cannot do.
I can do the basic two-step. A step to the right. A step to the left. A step up. A step back. I do not have to think about it. Just a simple one-two, one-two, and the sounds tickling my ears manifest in my feet. There is no harm if all I do song-in and song-out is slide to right, shimmy to left, take it to top and prance it back. A simple motion of one foot forward and one foot backward, and I am at peace relishing in the music of the moment.
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.