America “needs a moral compass,” said the president of the North Carolina NAACP chapter who last week visited Minneapolis. Even more than we need a “progressive” movement, “We need a moral movement that reframes the conversation,” stated the Rev. Dr. William Barber.
Barber drew national attention last year when he and others began “Moral Mondays” marches to Raleigh, North Carolina’s state capitol in protesting his state’s GOP-controlled legislature’s “deny and cut” political agenda. In an exclusive MSR interview last week, he explained that the April 29, 2013 march was originally intended to be a one-time event.
“We really [had] chosen to do one Moral Monday. We didn’t plan to do 68 Moral Mondays [thus far],” said Barber, who added that since that time over 10,000 people have participated in the weekly marches — an average of 2,500 persons each week. More than 40 organizers also are involved, many of them are young people, he noted. “You can’t be in the room with those young people and not be inspired to just do your part.”
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Despite his being largely credited for starting Moral Mondays, Barber emphasized, “This movement is not a person, it is a movement — you never see me on stage speaking alone. The Moral Mondays movement is not just a movement that says extremism is wrong. We point out why it’s wrong and examine the myths of extremism and how policies that hurt the LGBT community or the African American community hurt all of us as Americans.”
The weekly protests that now have expanded to Georgia and South Carolina stress five key points, said the reverend: economic stability, educational equality, health care, addressing criminal justice disparities, and expanding rights in such areas as voting, marriage equality, immigrant policy and labor.
Barber says these issues also are important in Minnesota, a prime reason why he accepted the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) invitation to come here “to learn what’s going on in Minneapolis. We also know that there are extreme levels of poverty and unemployment in [Minnesota], particularly on how it impacts African Americans.”
Although state voters two years ago did reject the Voter ID proposal, Barber warns Minnesotans to “not rest on our laurels. The fact that you had to even vote down a Voter ID [proposal] or to vote down an attempt to suppress the vote today says that, whether you are in Minnesota or in Mississippi, you should be deeply concerned about extremist Tea Party-type policies that want to take us backwards.
“That’s why in Minnesota you had to fight Voter ID. There is a strand in politics…that seems to be bent on going backwards.”
He strongly believes that every American should have equal protection under the law. “You cannot remove that right of protection from someone because [of] their race, their creed or their color, or because of their income, class or their sexual orientation. It’s just not right.”
“We had to bring Rev. Barber here,” said MFT President Lynn Nordgren prior to the visiting North Carolina minister’s dinnertime speech to educators, officials and others last Friday at the Millennium Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. Barber also led a “March for Equity” on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis during his two-day stay last week.
“There is a longing for a moral compass” in this country,” said Barber in a sermon-like speech that time and time again brought the audience to their feet, clapping affirmatively on his insistence that working together — “a fusion coalition,” as he called it — is deeply necessary in this country.
“We wouldn’t be talking about a moral movement if it was just Black [people],” said the pastor. “We say we’re an anti-racist, anti-poverty fusion moral coalition. You got to build broad in your language in order to be broad in your actions.”
As a result, Moral Mondays have engaged people of “all different colors and races, and political parties, over 1,000 clergy — Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Bihai, Buddhist and other [faiths]. We got labor unions, civil rights, women and GLBT working together like never before. We’ve made a state movement a national issue.
“Sometimes you may not be able to change the politicians but you can change the climate in which the politicians have to exist,” said Barber. “When you build a platform, not for the politicians but for the everyday person, and when you put a face on the pain, and people can see it, then you can shift the center of [discussion].”
Barber added that “rollback politics” in North Carolina is occurring in other GOP-dominated state legislatures as well. “When you can run for office and actually say to folk, ‘Elect me and I will do everything I can to undo the promise of America,’ we are in a moral crisis.
“These are not just policies” but rather “political extremism” being enacted on the people, stated Barber. He strongly suggested that the current moral crisis in America “demands people to stand up for what’s right.”
These “extremist attacks” on the poor and low-income “working people and the unemployed” in this country “are constitutionally inconsistent, morally indefensible, historically inaccurate and economically insane,” he said. “If they are unified enough in their attempt to go backwards, we certainly ought to build a fusion coalition and be unified to keep us pushing forward.”
Asked for comment on the recent police shootings in Ferguson, Missouri and other places, Barber said, “I am deeply concerned about the violence we’ve seen in the last two weeks… Of profiling African American males, we cannot have one more episode of ‘police gone crazy.’ There has to be some investigation and has to be prosecution.
“The question is what do we do, or what kind of society are we in when certain persons with the power of the badge and the power of a gun decide that their role is not to protect and to serve but to prey and shoot our citizens because of their class or their color — not just for Black people, but for all people.
“We also have to raise our voices against killing in our community by our own,” he continued. “We at the [local] NAACP have spoken on both those issues. What sustains me is my faith,” said the longtime pastor. “I just believe that the only meaningful life is [one in which] you engage in the cause of justice, love and righteousness, and seeing your fellow man and woman uplifted. Those are some of the things that keep us going.”
Barber said although he didn’t plan for Moral Mondays, “We are chosen sometimes by [the] time. The spirit of the movement took all of us over. There’s a certain strength that comes from the people.”
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Related story and video: Minnesota March for Equity addresses state’s ‘opportunity gap’ (Howard Kling, Workday Minnesota, 2014)