I’m very fortunate to get permission to share an article by Glenn Schmidt on Rev. Dr. William Barber’s March 13, 2014 speech delivered in Madison, Wisconsin.
Glenn’s article will appear in the Union Labor News very shortly with other essential reporting on labor issues of Wisconsin.
Reverend Barber brings Moral Mondays to Madison
by Glenn Schmidt, Union Labor News
Wisconsin 2011. Take a normal, mid-sized Midwestern state with a reputation for sensible government and a history of serving its people and take it down.
North Carolina 2013. Take a normal, mid-sized southern state with a reputation for sensible government and a history of serving its people and take it down.
Over and over and over again Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II invoked the term to describe the Republican majorities in each state that seized complete power and used it to attack its own people.
The list of extremists’ targets in each state is remarkably similar: unions, the unemployed, sick people, children and schools, minorities, gays and lesbians, poor people.
Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, helped lead a backlash against the extremist policies there, but in so doing, set a very different tone.
He was one of 17 people who, 76 Mondays ago, started Moral Mondays, a massive response marked by what Barber calls “moral dissent.”
In the vibrating crowd of at least 800 people in the pews of Bethel Lutheran Church in Madison on March 13, Barber’s call and response was not at all out of place. “Moral dissent,” the crowd repeated after him, “is the pathway,” here they paused again, “to higher ground,” pause, “in our nation.”
Isaiah and Ezekial soon found their way into the conversation. So did Rush Limbaugh, as Barber called out the radio talk show extremist, “Caring for the poor and workers’ rights is not Communism. It’s the Gospel.”
Barber reinforced the connection between North Carolina and Wisconsin by invoking the name of Father James Groppi, the Wisconsin priest who led civil rights marches in the sixties. “Many people saw Milwaukee as the Selma of the North,” Barber said.
In another historical reference, he said that the United States was in the midst of a third period of Reconstruction. The first began in 1868, the second in 1954. What the periods share is a five-pronged attack on specific targets: voting rights, public education, labor, tax revenue, and attacks and assassinations of progressive leaders.
The labor issue especially brought historical threads together. “Labor without labor rights is slavery,” he said. North Carolina’s Moral Mondays movement is not about politics according to Barber. It’s about “changing the context.”
“We got suckered into measuring our success by elections,” he said. Lyndon Johnson was an example of changing the context—a former segregationist who passed the Civil Rights Act.
Barber dissected the extremist response to President Johnson—Ronald Reagan and the southern strategy which successfully used racial code words to get working class whites to vote against their own economic self-interest. This reflected a “pattern of immoral deconstruction every time progress is being made.”
Barber’s answer to “wealthy extermists” getting us fighting each other (he called out the Koch brothers in particular) is staying together and supporting each other. “Extremists try to get you to fight separately,” he warned.
To progressives he said, “You have got to stop seeing yourself through the eyes of your adversaries.”
Barber denounced the religious right for its “fallacies.” “There are no scriptures in the Bible about prayer in schools,” he said, adding that there was “no place for hate in the Bible.”
He then turned back to his “progressive friends” and cautioned them about overreacting. “You can’t throw out religion just because somebody messed it up.”
In an echo of Wisconsin’s long-running Solidarity SingAlong (whose singers were at the event) Barber told the crowd he had been arrested for “praying, singing and talking loud” in response to an “avalanche of extremist policy”: cutting Medicaid for 500,000 people, cutting taxes to give money to the rich, attacking schools and voting rights. More loud echoes from Wisconsin.
He urged the enthusiastic crowd to sow the seeds of moral dissent and demand higher ground on behalf of education, labor rights, living wages, health care, environmental protection, poverty and the moderate proposition that people matter more than profits.
“Our children’s children will honor our memory because we did not give up the higher ground.”
Rev. Dr. Barber was brought to Madison by the Labor and Working Class Studies Project and the event was sponsored by the South Central Federation of Labor and other organizations.
I encourage readers to consider purchasing a subscription to Union Labor News (at this price, frankly, it’s a steal).
I’m working on a separate post for video, photos, etc.
Twitter info. for the Moral Monday / Forward Together movements: