Barber still devoted to fighting injusticeBy Cash Michaels, Peacemaker Senior Contributor / April 20, 2023
It was Monday, April 29th, 2013, when seventeen clergy people, activists and students, led by then NC NAACP Pres. Rev. Dr. William Barber, went to the NC General Assembly Building on Jones Street, walked up the stairs to the second floor, prayed, and read the U.S. Constitution out loud outside the golden doors of the NC Republican-led House and Senate while both were in session, opposing what they called the “extremist policies coming out of the People’s House.”
The seventeen were eventually arrested, handcuffed, and transported to jail by bus. They were cheered on by a group of demonstrators as they were being loaded.
On subsequent Monday afternoons at the NC General Assembly, more activists of various colors, religions, ages and backgrounds joined what soon became known as “Moral Mondays,” protesting the passage of laws that negatively targeted the rights of poor people to adequate health care, affordable housing, fair wages, and other concerns of social justice.
“We weren’t out there in a spirit of hate, like the January 6th people,” said one of the veteran Moral Monday demonstrators on a Zoom call reunion last Saturday. ”We were out there because we love our state. We were out there in a spirit of love.”
It wasn’t long before Moral Mondays evolved into weekly demonstrations at the state legislature with thousands from all across the state peacefully demonstrating, and over 1,000 eventually arrested. Impressive multi-cultural, multi-racial coalitions had been built, and progressive activists found their voice in defining the pressing social issues that mattered.
By the time the Moral Monday Movement ended in Raleigh months later, Moral Monday demonstrations were beginning to pop up across the nation. The movement was able to help spur a drop in then Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s ratings by at least 20 points in the polls. Movement lawyers were successful in the courts stopping voter ID legislation, and more than ten years later, the legislature finally voted to expand Medicaid to over half a million needy North Carolinians.
When Rev. Dr. Barber finally left the N.C. NAACP in 2017, he was able to build a national movement called the “Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival” based on the success of Moral Mondays.
Next Monday, April 24th, 2023, Rev. Dr. Barber, now a professor at prestigious Yale University in Connecticut and leader of the social justice group Repairers of the Breach, is calling on all who participated in the Raleigh Moral Monday demonstrations of the past, let alone those who got arrested, to come together again in the Capitol City to commemorate their movement. He is calling it “the Moral Monday 10-year Anniversary and Recommitment Rally, starting at 5:30 p.m. at the N.C. State Capitol, 1 East Morgan Street, in Raleigh.
“It’s amazing to me that ten years later, the things we did then are sorely needed now,” Rev. Dr. Barber told the Zoom meeting last Saturday of veteran Moral Monday demonstrators who had been proudly arrested for the cause.
“Not only will we commemorate, but recommit ourselves,” Barber continued. “It wasn’t just a day; it was a movement. That’s what it’s going to take to ultimately shift this nation more towards justice and truth.”
Indeed, April 24th will be more than just a tenth anniversary commemoration. According to Rev. Rob Stephens, National Political Director of Repairers of the Breach, there are compelling issues for protest at the Republican-led N.C. General Assembly now. Bills outlawing the teaching of true Black history in public schools; targeting the LGBTQ community; pending bills designed to stop demonstrations by defining them as riots.
Rev. Stephens called the current N.C. legislature “evil.”
The spirit of the Moral Monday Movement still permeates the vision of Rev. Barber. Recently, he’s been spending time in Nashville, Tenn. supporting the cause of the two Black Democratic lawmakers who were expelled from the state legislature for openly protesting Tennessee’s unrestrictive gun laws.
After April 24th, Barber is expected to lead a three-day march against what he says are the regressive social policies of Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Rev. Barber admits that he doesn’t have the youth of ten years ago. Indeed, he says his knees are not the same. But his commitment to moral justice across the nation, especially for poor people, is as strong as ever.
“I’m hopeful because of what I see in people,” he told the Yale University newspaper. “When I go among poor White folk in West Virginia who say, ‘Reverend Barber, we are not going to be silent anymore.’ Or I go among poor White farmers in Kentucky saying the same thing: ‘We’re not going to be silent anymore.’ Or Black women down in Alabama, or fast-food workers in North Carolina. All of that, all those people, they give me hope.”