A Bible-believing black minister in North Carolina is the leader of a new movement called that has brought tens of thousands of people of different races, creeds and backgrounds into the streets in support of social justice.
He is the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C. Firmly rooted in the African-American church tradition, he brings together people of all races and many creeds.
I read about his work in his new book, THE THIRD RECONSTRUCTION: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics and the Rise of a New Social Justice Movement.
He wrote that the histories of Reconstruction following the Civil War and the civil rights movement of the 1960s, which he calls the Second Reconstruction, show that black people achieve their goals only through “fusion politics”—white and black people working together for their mutual benefit.
In 2005, soon after being elected president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, he joined with Al McSurely, an experienced white civil rights activist, to organize a meeting of a broad cross-section of reformers in the state—advocates of education funding, living wage, health care, affordable housing, environmental justice, immigrant justice, criminal justice reform and many others.
He had each group draw up its goals on a big sheet of butcher paper and then, on another sheet, list the obstacles to achieving those goals.
The goals were diverse, but the obstacles were the same—North Carolina’s state government and the corporate interests that controlled it.
This was the birth of a new movement called HKonJ, which stands for Historic Thousands on Jones Street, the location of the state legislature in Raleigh. Each year they bring together a People’s Assembly, which hears testimony of victims of injustice and speakers about how injustice can be remedied, and then closes with a sermon and prayer.
Then they march on the legislature to make their voices heard. Because they represent such a large cross-section of North Carolinians, it is hard to dismiss what they say out of prejudice against a particular group.
Initially they had successes. They helped a union organizing effort to succeed at a Smithfield ham processing plant. They organized a successful legal defense of John McNeil, a black man wrongfully convicted of murder for shooting a white trespasser who threatened his son.
In 2009, they persuaded the state legislature to enact the Racial Justice Act, which granted the right of appeal to anyone convicted of murder who could show racial bias in sentencing.
They successfully sued to provide budget cuts that would have eliminated prekindergarten education and child care for thousands of poor families, on the grounds that this violated a provision of North Carolina’s state constitution, ratified during the first Reconstruction, which guaranteed the right of public education to all.
Opponents fought back. North Carolina was one of the targets of the REDSTATE plan to lock in Republican control of state legislators.
With the help of targeted dark money, the corporatist Republicans gained control of the legislature in 2010, and redrew legislative and congressional district boundaries so as to lock in their control.
In 2012, the Republicans introduced Amendment One, which made it unconstitutional to perform same-sex marriages or civil unions. The purpose of the amendment, Rev. Barber noted, was to split the social justice movement.
Whether for that reason or because of the in-place gerrymandered system, Republicans gained control of the governorship and both houses of the state legislature in a year in which President Barack Obama narrowly carried the popular vote in the state.
The new government then proceeded to enact its agenda: blocking federal funds to expand Medicaid; cuts in federal unemployment benefits; cuts in taxes for the wealthy; end of the state Earned Income Tax Credit for the poor; elimination of funding for Legal Aid; and, worst of all, new restrictions on voting rights.
These restrictions included Photo ID requirements, ending of voter registration on election day, denial of voting rights to ex-felons, and ending of child dependency tax credits for parents of students who voted where they go to school.
As Rev. Barber noted, restrictions of voting rights is what make the rest of their program possible.
The movement responded in 2013 with a series of teach-ins and non-violent protests called Moral Mondays. These rallies brought tens of thousands of people into the streets. Rallies continued in subsequent years, although not on a weekly basis.
Rev. Barber wrote that he and his allies have won the fight for public opinion.
He said public opinion polls show that a large majority of North Carolinians now favor outlawing discrimination in hiring against gay and lesbian people, accepting federal funds in increase Medicaid, raising taxes to give school teachers a pay raise, raising the minimum wage.
A large majority oppose restrictions on early voting and favor alternatives to voter ID, and a majority oppose public funds for private school vouchers
He has been invited to speak by white people in parts of North Carolina where it was once considered dangerous for a black person to go. People in an Appalachian community where there are no black people were so impressed with Barber’s vision that they formed a chapter of the NAACP.
In 2014, he and his followers founded an organization called Repairers of the Breach to share the lessons they learned and help other state movements. This year he was an invited speaker at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Winning over people is only the first step. It remains to be seen whether the power of people will win out over the power of money. Rev. Barber has no doubts. He believes that God is on his wide.
Moral Mondays: the new fusion politics by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II for UU World magazine. [Added 10/15/2016]
The Third Reconstruction: Moral Fusion Politics and Working for Justice by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II for Friends Journal.
This is how they gutted North Carolina – and this is the man who might save it, an interview with the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II for Salon.
A Third Reconstruction? Rev. William Barber Lifts the Trumpet, an interview for Religion Dispatches.
The Third Reconstruction for White Folks by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove for Red Letter Christians.
The civil rights movement hasn’t ended: We’re in a third reconstruction by Denise Oliver Velez for Daily Kos.
The 2015 Moral Monday Movement: ‘North Carolina Is Our Selma’ by Ari Berman for The Nation.
Can Moral Mondays Produce Victorious Tuesdays? by Barry Yeoman for the American Prospect.