Saturday, December 6, 2014

Why America Needs Reverend William Barber to Run for President

The Rev. William Barber is a leader of the Moral Monday movement for social justice. (photo: unknown)

Why America Needs Reverend William Barber to Run for President

By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News
04 December 14

“Labor rights are not left or right issues, women’s rights are not left or right issues, education is not a left or right issue, helping people when they’re unemployed is not left or right. Those issues are the moral center of who we are, and it’s high time that we recover the moral dialogue in this nation.”
~ Rev. William Barber II

Picture a candidate on the presidential debate stage in 2016 who, in a single hour, could completely demolish Republican arguments with morality. This candidate would frame ending poverty, providing healthcare, and bolstering education as moral responsibilities, citing the Constitution and the Bible throughout. As a Southerner, this candidate would pick up Southern voters. As a clergy member, this candidate would pick up religious voters. And as someone who doesn’t come from Washington, this candidate would pick up apathetic voters. When this candidate is through speaking, Republican politicians who normally fly the moral and constitutional flags would suddenly have no moral or constitutional credibility.

So who is this candidate? Rev. William Barber II, the charismatic president of the North Carolina NAACP and fiery voice of the Moral Monday movement.

“They can deride us, they can deflect from the issue, but they can’t debate us when we make our case on moral and constitutional grounds.”
~ Rev. William Barber II

Whether he’s debating Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, or Ben Carson, Rev. Barber’s brand of religious populism is the secret weapon that exposes all of America’s most ardent right-wing politicians as immoral. Barber carries around a copy of the Poverty and Justice Bible, containing over 2,000 scriptures that bolster arguments for a stronger social safety net, like providing healthcare for the sick, food for the hungry, and compassion for the less fortunate. As the spiritual leader of North Carolina’s Forward Together movement, Barber has mastered the art of framing progressive economic populism in a moral and religious narrative, effectively making it impossible for the Republicans in power to debate those policies.

“There is a longing for a moral compass … We need a transformative moral fusion movement that’s indigenously led, state-based, deeply moral, deeply Constitutional, anti-racist, anti-poverty, pro-justice, and pro-labor, a movement that brings people together ... We need to build long-term, not just for one issue or one campaign.”
~ Rev. William Barber II

In late 2006, Rev. Barber and the North Carolina NAACP organized the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) coalition, long before the Republican takeover of the North Carolina statehouse. They mobilized for a 14-point agenda based on economic, political, environmental, and racial justice, and successfully passed legislation through consistent advocacy. But after retail billionaire Art Pope financed the Republican takeover of 2010 and funded Gov. Pat McCrory’s successful bid for governor in 2012, the state legislature rolled back HKonJ’s gains, piece by piece.

“The governor has called us leftists and socialists … We say to them, if we are leftists in fighting for justice and fairness for all people, then the Bible and the Constitution are the Magna Carta of leftist documents.”
~ Rev. William Barber II

Rev. Barber and the movement he spent years organizing began assembling people on the statehouse lawn every Monday for an evening of speeches, protests, and mass civil disobedience for 64 weeks straight, called Moral Mondays. Over those 64 weeks, more than 1,000 people were willingly arrested (full disclosure: I was arrested at Moral Monday in June of 2013 as part of my research for this article about Moral Mondays) and crowd estimates reached as high as 80,000 people on a given week. Each separate Moral Monday was focused on a different issue: from voting rights, to reproductive rights, to environmental justice, to unemployment extensions, to Medicaid expansion, public education and more. And each week, Rev. Barber gave a rousing speech to the thousands gathered about the moral basis of each issue.

“Isaiah chapter 10 reads, ‘Woe to those who legislate evil, and rob the poor of their rights and make children and women their prey.’ That’s why I tell my progressive friends, you’ve got to stop throwing away the Bible. There’s too much good stuff in there.”
~ Rev. William Barber II

What Rev. Barber brings to the table that even Washington’s most outspoken populists like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders do not, is the open embrace of Christianity to frame progressive populism. Warren and Sanders are eloquent speakers and great standard-bearers for today’s progressive movement, but they still are only able to communicate in terms that don’t reach outside of their respective audiences. Voters who are deeply Christian tend to favor right-wing politicians who claim they’re the moral candidate due to their views on abortion and marriage. But Rev. Barber skillfully steals their thunder with his experience as a pastor and his knowledge of the Bible.

“I’ve looked at the religious right’s agenda of being against people who are homosexual, and being for prayer in the school, and being against abortion. I can find about 5 scriptures that may speak to those issues, and 4 of them they misinterpret. But none of them took this ethical demand – that you love your neighbor as yourself.”
~ Rev. William Barber II

Voters who turned out in record-low numbers for the 2014 midterms were widely distrustful of Congress, with only 10 percent approving of the job Washington politicians were doing. Voters also expressed frustration with both Democrats and Republicans. But if Rev. Barber were to run as an Independent candidate in 2016 on his platform of moral populism, he would attract national and international attention, and other candidates would be climbing over each other to win his endorsement. Even if Barber ran not to win, but to force Democrats and Republicans to answer his calls for a moral awakening in Washington rooted in populist values, it would completely change the game.

“You need somebody who is a person of faith to say to the religious right, ‘You want a moral debate? Bring it on, baby.’”
~ Rev. William Barber II

Barber may not have experience as a legislator or governor, but he’s proven himself as a leader capable of organizing thousands for social justice in a Republican-led Southern state. While Barber himself urges his audiences to not seek salvation from a single political candidate, and insists that movements come not from DC, but from communities organizing for justice in individual states, he could serve as the anchor for that state-based social movement that he’s quietly built over the last decade, shake people out of their apathy, and inspire voters to take action beyond the ballot box. And ultimately, that’s the only thing that’s ever brought about lasting change.

“You don’t have enough political power to vote us away. You don’t have enough insults to talk us away. And to the Koch Brothers, you don’t have enough damn money to buy us away.”
~ Rev. William Barber II

Carl Gibson, 26, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nationwide creative direct-action movement that mobilized tens of thousands of activists against corporate tax avoidance and budget cuts in the months leading up to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary "We're Not Broke," which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. He currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. You can contact him at, and follow him on twitter at @uncutCG.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

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