'We' is the most important word in the social justice vocabulary. The issue is not what we can't do, but what we CAN do when we stand together. With an upsurge in racism/hate crimes, criminalization of young black males, insensitivity to the poor, educational genocide, and the moral/economic cost of a war, we must STAND together now like never before. —Rev. William Barber.
His book is not a mere biography—it is a document about the development of a new fusion movement, or as he speaks of it, "a third reconstruction."
For those of you who don't know Barber's history, here's a partial biography:
Dr. Barber was born August 30, 1963 to a father who was a trained theologian and had a masters degree in social work and a mother who was a trained pianist with a business degree and was working for the government. “The joke in my family is that my mother went into labor on the 28th and stopped, because I wanted to see what was going to happen after the march on Washington – so I was born August 30th,” Barber said.
When Barber was young his parents made a decision that he says he thinks impacted his life. “My father was from eastern North Carolina from Martin County,” Barber said. “And those that know history will know that in 1964, ten years after Brown (v. Board of Education), schools in the south were still not desegregated even though the Supreme Court had ruled (for schools to desegregate). “My parents made the decision to come back home. E.V. Wilkins put a call out to my father and said ‘Barber, we need you to come back. You have participated in integration in Indiana and we need some trained people (to come here).’ My father and mother prayed about it and made a decision that rather than escape the continuing Jim Crow of the south, they would bring me back home, their only child at the time, even though it meant my father would have to teach at a segregated school, and that my mother would be the secretary at a segregated school, and their only son would be entering kindergarten or first grade at a segregated school.”
Barber’s father and mother were among the first to help integrate Plymouth High School, in Washington County, NC. Dr. Barber was educated in the public schools of Washington County and became the student government president of his high school for the entire year in 1980, even though there were elections for two separate student body presidents – one black, which would serve for one semester, and one white, which would serve for the next semester. Originally, Barber went to school to become a lawyer and didn’t always want to become a minister. He said that watching his father work as a minister and his father being under-appreciated caused him to struggle with his decision to become a minister. “I’m a country boy,” Barber said. “I’d much rather be fishing or just hanging out with some people or doing normal pastoral work than being so engaged, though I think this is pretty normal too.”
You can read more of his story in this feature
from Mother Jones
From Chalice Press, publisher of his new book:
This reflection on the "Moral Mondays"/"Forward Together" movement's beginnings introduces Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the sources of his courage from both a biblical imagination for justice and a deep connection to "fusion" civil rights history, and the inspiring story of the Southern freedom movement's revival.
Forward Together: A Moral Message for the Nation
Barber invites readers into a big-tent, faith-based movement for justice that has room for black, white, and brown, gay and straight, rich and poor, old and young, people from all walks of life.
With civil rights battles waged in statehouses that then move to federal courts on appeal, what happens in North Carolina can shift the center of gravity in political discourse, debate, and decision—and change the nation.
In the spring of 2013, seventeen people gathered at the North Carolina state legislature to protest extreme legislation passed by the General Assembly attacking health insurance, unemployment insurance, labor, and voting rights. The ministers, labor, and human rights activists began praying, singing, and chanting, and were ultimately arrested. That group grew into crowds of thousands at successive "Moral Mondays" rallies, and by summer's end nearly 1,000 people had been arrested, making this sustained moral protest one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in U.S. history. The effort grew out of seven years of organizing with more than 160 groups.
Rallies continued in 2014, with a "Moral March" of 80,000 people in February. Rev. Dr. William Barber II, a pastor and president of the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP, now the largest in the South, became one of the architects of the Forward Together Moral Movement. In a new book, Forward Together, Rev. Barber tells the story of a new fusion civil rights movement, a "big tent," in which black and white, gay and straight, rich and poor, old and young, Republicans and Democrats are all welcome.
Rev. Barber's sermons/speeches at the protests, many of them collected in Forward Together, became the inspiration and rallying cry for a new civil rights movement. North Carolina today is at the epicenter of the political and spiritual crisis affecting 21st-century America. What happens here, says Barber, can shift the center of gravity in the American political discourse. Similar movements are now growing in states around the country.
has said of the book:
What would happen if the American people truly took the promises of both the Constitution and the Bible seriously? This is the kind of question normally posed by those on the ideological right in the United States, but Forward Together is a resounding progressive response to this question by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II of the North Carolina NAACP. Forward Together is part biblical exegesis and part constitutional interpretation. It is part field diary of an organizing veteran and part how-to guide for building sustainable social movements. It is part revelation of a great leader's mind and part elevation of a great people's sacrifices. Barber tells the specific story of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina. He asserts the powerful imperative of a Christian prophetic tradition married to deep Southern history of progressive interracial political organizing. While this is the specific story of a particular tradition in a unique place, it is also a universal guide for transformative possibilities of using justice as a sacred precept of governance. Moral Mondays are the most important, sustained, progressive social movement of our moment. Forward Together is the handbook of that movement.
And trade unionists have endorsed the book, as can be seen on the publisher's website
“The Forward Together/Moral Mondays Movement is one of the most significant approaches to the struggles for social, economic, and political fairness that our country has had to confront. Congratulations to the followers for their commitment and to the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II for his vision.” —William Lucy, Former Secretary-Treasurer, American Federation Of State, County, and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, and President Emeritus, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists
“This is a must read for anyone desiring to bring working people in our country together. The Forward Together/Moral Mondays Movement makes a demand for the values upon which this country was created. It is one of the most diverse movements in our country—North, South, East, or West.” —George Gresham, President, 1199SEIU
Some people on the left are unable to listen because they don't understand, and reject the use of biblical social justice language, though many of those same activists will quote Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Mahatma Gandhi. All were political and moral leaders who arose out of faith traditions. Social justice was the core of the liberation theology movement
in Latin America and the Caribbean, black liberation theology
here in the U.S., and was a key element of the civil rights movement and the earlier movement of abolitionism and anti-slavery. Catholic social activists like the Berrigan brothers
played a key role in the anti-war movement here in the U.S.
One of the first rules of community organizing is to speak to people you organize in a language they can understand. And there are many Americans who understand both church and biblical references.
When the Rev. Barber speaks of a social justice faith tradition, the roots of that tradition go back to the days of slavery, when abolitionists and insurrectionists used the Sunday gatherings of those people who were enslaved to strike blows for freedom and escape. The black church became one of the only institutions for blacks allowed to exist, and a means to learn to read and write. Frederick Douglass wrote of teaching slaves to read and write (which was illegal) while he taught Bible school. Slaveholders used the Christian Bible to uphold slavery. Those fighting for freedom railed against the clear hypocrisy of spouting slavery in Jesus' name, and they turned the texts against slaveholders, embracing a god of love, of caring for the sick, the weak and the poor, and one who led the Hebrews from bondage.
Frederick Douglass castigated and excoriated the hypocrisy of Christians in the U.S. who supported slavery in his most famous speech, What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?
, and in this appendix to his compelling autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself
I find, since reading over the foregoing Narrative, that I have, in several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion, as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose me an opponent of all religion. To remove the liability of such misapprehension, I deem it proper to append the following brief explanation. What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.
Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of "stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in." I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each week meets me as a class-leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation. He who sells my sister, for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity.
He who proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of the God who made me. He who is the religious advocate of marriage robs whole millions of its sacred influence, and leaves them to the ravages of wholesale pollution. The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families,—sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers,—leaving the hut vacant, and the hearth desolate. We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the Poor Heathen! All For The Glory Of God And The Good Of Souls! The slave auctioneer's bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies and souls of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other—devils dressed in angels' robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.
, Unitarian minister, theologian, and abolitionist, predicted the inevitable success of the abolitionist cause this way:
"I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."
A century later, Martin Luther King, Jr. paraphrased these words to great effect in his famous "Where Do We Go From Here?" speech of August 1967 to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, when he said, The arc of the Moral Universe Is long, but It bends toward Justice'."
I understand those people who, because of their own philosophy of secular humanism, agnosticism, or atheism, have a difficult time with biblical or Christian references. However, we can all come together in common moral cause. What I want to point out is that there is nothing
in the Rev. Barber's or Douglass' or Martin Luther King Jr.'s moral philosophies that goes against separation of church and state. We all have a responsibility to move forward toward justice together, or else the country we live in will be torn asunder by those extremists on the right who seek to impose an extremist elite-ruled theocracy on us all.
During the height of the right-wing frenzy against marriage equality in North Carolina, the Rev. Barber spoke about being a conservative evangelical minister:
"I am a Christian evangelical conservative" he said, "because I believe that actually many of those who claim to be conservative, are actually quite liberal." There was laughter from the audience. "Because while they talk religion, they liberally leave out any mention of the centerpiece at the heart of faith. I want to conserve what's at the center of faith...and at the heart of faith is love, and at the heart of faith is justice at the heart of faith is fairness.
He has called out those, as did Douglass before him, who claim to be Christians, but whose voices are silent on social injustice, and he excoriated them, "Where are you now?"
He closed this sermon with:
Where are you now...so loud when it comes to personal sexuality and so quiet when it comes to social injustice? You are so loud, when you want to deny a few people their equal protection under the law, but you're so quiet when the lives and livelihood of every day people are being trampled upon.
And I want you to know in the lovingest way I can say it, but with truth, to be loud for personal private matters and to be quiet over systemic and social injustice is a form of Pharistical hypocrisy.
The Rev. Barber has been attacked by right-wing extremists and called a "race-baiter." But then, anyone who speaks out against racism gets branded by that epithet. In the first chapter of his book he speaks of Martin Luther King:
Dr. King was called a troublemaker and even a race-baiter 45 years ago as he led the call for a civil rights and economic justice Movement. He called for a Poor People's Movement to address the glaring realities of poverty even as he loved America enough to say: Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. Dr. King loved the world enough to say that the Evil Triplets of poverty, racism and war are forms of violence that exist in a viscous cycle, interrelated. They stand as barriers to our living in a Beloved Community. Few listened."
He goes on to point to the continuum, the links that tie Moral Mondays to what has gone before:
Nevertheless this vision resonated with black and white students from the urban and rural communities of America, who started the sit-in movement, and SNCC, the Student non-violent Coordinating Committee that was born here in Raleigh, North Carolina, under the tutelage of our own rural scholar and activist Ella Baker. the young SNCC leaders were maligned and disrespected by those who wanted to maintain the status quo of inequality, but they kept on because they knew who they were.
Young people today are drawn to the Moral Mondays movement—from Occupy and campuses and inner cities. This last summer was Moral Freedom Summer
, honoring the 50th anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer, with today's youth continuing in the footsteps of those who came before them.
The most powerful message, for both young and old, is why we need to vote. I will be honest. When I first heard him speak this, the hairs stood up on my arms. I've heard a lot of speakers and preachers in my 67 years on the planet, but this man had me up out of my chair. When I'm feeling discouraged, and put-upon by the ugliness of Ferguson and other tragedies, when I read of set-backs in the courts or stonewalling in Congress, I play it again. There are two versions available of Rev. Barber's speech—"If we ever need to vote, we sure do need to vote now!"
This is the edited one. The full version is here, and the transcript, supplied by TrueBlueMajority is here:
Since the speech was given at the Plenary Session of the NAACP convention in Houston, Texas, on July 11, 2012, you can add two years to the dates the Rev. Barber cites, but the meaning of that history has not changed. If anything, the need for us to mobilize to vote has increased, given the gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the extremist Roberts' U.S. Supreme Court majority on June 25, 2013, and the voter suppression legislation passed since then.
Let us join together, move forward together, fight together, and vote together to defeat those who would deny us our freedoms.
And please—support Daily Kos-endorsed candidates who believe voting is fundamental.
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