Let’s imagine you live in a state where the governor has refused to extend Medicaid coverage to the poor in need of health care.
Let’s say your legislature has passed restrictive voting laws and gerrymandered voting districts to protect those in power. Let’s say your state has a recent history of legislative and gubernatorial attacks on public schools, immigrants, unemployed people and same-sex couples.
How should you react?
The Rev. William Barber has a suggestion. He says you need to see this as a moral crisis. You need to take action.
Every important social movement has a moral core to it. Isaiah 10 says, Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decisions and deprive the poor of their rights.’ In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says he was sent to preach the gospel to the poor, Barber says.
His voice rises in volume, and he begins to speak more quickly.
Our Constitution talks about justice and the general welfare before it even mentions freedom and liberty. Any narrow view of morality that does not include respect for the poor, for voting rights, for workers’ rights, for the LGBT community, is just heretical!
The good reverend can undoubtedly preach, even in a phone interview. But he is better known for taking action.
Barber is the leader of the Moral Mondays movement, protesting the same type of legislative agenda in North Carolina that has dominated Indiana’s lawmaking for several years.
Beginning with a small group singing and praying at the Capitol in Raleigh, the movement has grown to a weekly spectacle that has attracted crowds that sometimes exceed 10,000 people and has led to more than 1,000 arrests.
The 50-year-old Barber is a Disciples of Christ minister in Goldsboro and president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP. He is also a Hoosier, born in Indianapolis where his father earned degrees from Butler and Christian Theological Seminary.
For more than seven years, Barber and others have been building a coalition that successfully pushed a North Carolina agenda that included same-day registration and early voting, increased funding for public education, and a hike in the minimum wage.
But, in 2011, Republicans redrew the state’s legislative boundaries. Barber calls it the most racist redistricting since Jim Crow, and the new boundaries are still under legal challenge. But the redistricting was in place for the 2012 elections, and it helped the GOP sweep into power.
As soon as the new governor and legislature took over, they immediately took off after sick people, poor people, old people, and African-Americans, Barber says. It was an avalanche of extreme policies.
The coalition responded by fighting in the streets and in the suites, Barber says. Building on the growth of the Moral Mondays protests, the goal for its Feb. 8 march in Raleigh is to hold the biggest civil rights rally in the South since Selma in 1965.
To Barber, it is no accident that the backdrop for this struggle is a state capital. He points out that the civil rights movement gained its first traction not in Washington, D.C., but in Montgomery, Ala. We are in a time of our history where the pro-justice, anti-poverty movements are going to be on a state level. That is where voting laws, labor laws and educational policies are being made.
Some folks in Indiana have raised their voices against the same kind of policies that are triggering mass resistance in North Carolina. But the outcry has not been nearly as intense. Barber, who looks forward to visiting and speaking in Indiana soon, says that gap should narrow once Hoosiers realize that current polices are wrong on a fundamental level.
We have to have citizens who see budgets as moral issues, health care as a moral issue and education as a moral issue, he says. In our movement, we don’t deal with labels like Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal.
That is because most people, no matter what their party, are against kicking people when they are down. When they realize that lawmakers are doing just that, they are outraged.