Reverend Dr. William Barber II on reclaiming the moral high ground and building a majority coalition around issues of social justice

Reverend Dr. William Barber II, the North Carolina minister who founded the Forward Together moral movement, is in the press today. It would seem that a young man in his group was arrested yesterday in Charlotte, at one of Barber’s Moral Monday events, for putting voter registration information on the windshields of parked cars. As Charlotte apparently has a law on the books conerning the placement of printed materials on parked cars, I don’t know that they have much of a legal case, but, as I like Barber quite a bit, and appreciate his efforts to reintroduce the subject of morality to the American discourse, I was happy to hear that his efforts to expand voting rights among North Carolina’s disenfranchised were once again making news.

I first became acquainted with Barber this past summer at the Netroots Nation conference in Detroit, where he spoke eloquently about the history of black/white moral reform movements in America, and the inevitable backlash they draw from the right. Here, for those of you unacquainted with Barber, is video of his Netroots Nation keynote address, followed by a partial transcription, which was borrowed in large part from our friends at Daily Kos.

…Down in North Carolina, we in the Forward Together movement believe that we are in a moral crisis that is trying to take America down the road to political deconstruction. But there is a path to higher ground. There is a better way.

To grasp why many of us believe we are in a moral crisis, we need to glance into history for a moment, to find an interpretive lens.

We need to understand… the roots and the networkings of immoral deconstruction. And the only way to do that – we must find ourselves for a moment all the way back to the movement against slavery, and the movement that was designed to deal with the vestiges of slavery.

Remember if you will, the 1800s. (In) 1868 there arose a movement to build a new South. It was called the Fusion Movement, the Moral Fusion Movement, and it led what was called the First Reconstruction.

In that moment, in North Carolina, for instance, forging together, (blacks and whites) created a path to higher ground by framing a vision of reconstructing the nation along our deepest moral values.

Back then, 146 years ago, blacks and whites came together. In the South! And they understood the fusion between lifting up the former slaves, and how it intersected with the preservation of the South, and the nation.

Now this Reconstruction wasn’t perfect, but walk with me for a minute and hear for a minute the kind of language they used to rewrite constitutions to frame this movement and navigate the nation forward.

Listen for a minute, if you will, to the language… not used in 1960, or 1990, or 2000, but 146 years ago, for instance, in North Carolina. This is how blacks and whites were talking about coming up out of the vestiges of slavery.

This is what they wrote in our constitution:

“We, the people of the United… of the State of North Carolina… grateful to Almighty God, the Sovereign Ruler of Nations, for the preservation of the American Union and the existence of our civil, political and religious liberties.”

Listen to what they said:

“We hold it to be self-evident that all persons are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; among which are life, liberty, the enjoyment of the fruit of their own labor, and the pursuit of happiness.”

That’s 146 years ago. That’s language that didn’t even make it into our Constitution, federally.

Then they wrote in Article 2, “All political power is vested in and derived from the people, and should be used only for the good of the whole.”

146 years ago they wrote Section 10: “All elections shall be free.” 146 years ago!

Section 11. “All political rights and privileges are not dependent upon or modified by property, no property qualification shall affect the right to vote or hold office.”

146 years ago they knew how bad it was to let money drive who runs for political office…

Section 12 said that people have a right to assemble. And then they said, “but secret political societies are dangerous to the liberties of a free people.” 146 years ago they knew the danger of lobbyists that go into back rooms and dictate policy.

Section 15, 146 years ago, they made education a constitutional right in the South. “The people have a right to public education. And the state must guard that right.”

Section 19 demanded that everybody be provided equal protection under the law.

And then article 11, 146 years ago, when blacks and whites built this Fusion Movement, they wrote this in the constitution. Listen. Article 11, section 4, “beneficent provision for the poor, the unfortunate, and the orphan is one of the first duties of a civilized and Christian state.” [applause]

And we’ve got to be a little concerned, if people had that much sense 146 years ago, when we look at the state of our crisis today. In 1868 we see this moral fusion language, and it formed the framework for reconstruction.

Here’s what they fought for with this fusion movement: voting rights, public education, labor, health care, equal protection, fair tax policy, good of the whole.

And that kind of agenda reshaped the South and it reshaped the country. It reshaped the world.

But it also brought a vicious backlash.

A group came to being and they called themselves the teapart… I mean, excuse me, I’m getting to that… Help me Lord, Help me, I meant 18, I meant 18, I meant 1868, I meant 18, I meant 1868! [laughter and applause]

A group arose that called themselves the Redemption Movement, and it was rooted in the extreme philosophy of immoral deconstruction. And they fought back. They were moved by fear. Fear that their world was being taken over. Fear of a more just society. Fear of a more perfect union. They were radical racists and they began a process of immoral deconstruction. They began a campaign of fear (intended to) divide.

They called themselves the Redemption Movement. Sounds nice, but what they meant by that was, “It’s time for us to redeem America from the problem of black and white people working together for justice.”

What did they attack first? Voting rights. Then they attacked public education. Then they attacked labor. Then they attacked fair tax policies. And then they attacked progressive leaders. And then they engaged in a plan 40 and 100-some years ago to take over the courts, state and federal, so that they could be used in the service of rendering rulings that undermined the hopes of a new America. And that (came to fruition) with Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. And then they led riots all over this country and tried to make sure that certain elements had guns so that they could put the country back in its place according to their deconstructive, immoral philosophy.

And from this history, my friends, we must understand the root of what we are seeing. We’ve learned… We’ve learned that the strategy to stop any effort at reconstruction, the strategy to stop any fusion movement, has always consisted of these five or six direct attacks: you attack voting rights, you attack tax revenue and government programs and agencies designed to promote social uplift, you attack labor rights, you attack public education policy, you attack, and you attack, or assassinate, or try to undermine white and black progressive leaders.

Then we get to the Second Reconstruction… I’m passing on a lot of history, but bear with me. In 1954 the Brown v. Board of Education decision had an indelible impact on the United States. Declared the case of the century, it established that intentional segregation was unconstitutional, and this ruling served to fuel the Civil Rights movement. Two things fueled the Civil Rights movement. The Brown decision, and the acquittal of the people that killed Emmett Till. Because, when Rosa Parks saw them be acquitted, it was then that she decided, in response to the acquittal of the murderers of Emmett Till, that she had to sit down and challenge the existing system of discrimination. [applause]

So, in 1954, we get the Brown decision. Just about a year later, on August 28, 1955, you get the death of Emmett Till. Both of these things result in the kind of creation of a Second Reconstruction, a new fusion, a moral fusion politics.

And what do we see with this new fusion of blacks, and now whites, and now women, and now Latinos, and now the LGBT community, like Bayard Rustin and others, all coming together? What did we see?

We saw affirmative action. We saw the Committee on Equal Employment. We saw civil rights connected morally to economic justice. We saw the Social Security amendments of 1965. We saw the creation on a moral basis of Medicare and Medicaid. We saw changes in the application of Social Security that allowed the domestic community and the agrarian community that had been left out in 1935. We saw the Civil Rights Act of ’64 and the Voting Rights Act of ’65. And President Johnson said on August 6, 1965 that the Voting Rights Act was a triumph for freedom “as huge as any victory that’s ever been won on any battlefield.”

But the law came months after Martin Luther King launched the Southern Coalition Leadership Conference in Selma, when people of all different faiths came together, all different colors, and demanded, from a moral perspective, that the nation needed to change. So this moral fusion politics gained tremendous ground in the Second Reconstruction.

But then, as in the 1800s, the transformative power of moral-based fusion politics once again came under attack.

This time the attacks were defined and developed by Kevin Phillips, a Nixon and Republican strategist, that came to be known as the White Southern Strategy. It was a strategy deliberately designed to play the race card in a way to drive Southern whites to vote for… vote their fears and not their future. But it was designed to play the race card without seeming racist. You remember when GOP strategist Lee Atwater boldly described the Southern Strategy. You all have seen it out on Google and everywhere, when he said, you know, “We couldn’t use the n word any more, not in ’64, ’65,” he said. “You can’t be overtly racist, or it will backfire. So you say stuff like ‘forced busing’ and ‘states rights’ and all that stuff,” he said. He said, “You get abstract, you talk about cutting taxes and all these things you’re talking about, they seem to be totally economic, but the byproduct of them is that blacks get hurt worse than whites and we are able to divide the country.”

The target of the Southern Strategy was all of the southern states of the old Confederacy. But also some of the suburbs of the North.

It was the goal of developing a solid South to ensure that the majority of Southern whites would resist and repeal any fusion political and moral alliances with African Americans and others.

Programs that were once popular became the focus of great dislike and were castigated as negative entitlements helping “those” undeserving people.

Voting rights and civil rights laws were seen as further intrusion on the sovereignty of the state, especially in Southern states. And the process to no longer allow issues such as addressing poverty and civil rights to be defined in the public square as moral issues were begun in earnest, with the goal of limiting the moral discourse in the public square to abortion, prayer in the school and your stance on homosexuality. Even though those things do not even make up the primary, or the preeminent, ethical or moral concerns of any moral religion. Not one. [applause]

Let’s get to the root of this thing.

Leaders of the progressive moral vision were attacked. Some were killed. Medgar killed. Martin killed. Kennedy killed. Bobby killed. The movement was depressed. It worked. Solidified. And, according to a recent article in the Times, Charles Koch in 1974 delivered a speech on how to build a massive infrastructure, not to promote particular candidates, but to recreate the social consciousness, and to promote his brand of immoral deconstruction.

How it would work, and Ronald Reagan used it to a T in 1980, when he began part of his presidential campaign in Philaldephia, Mississippi. Didn’t have to be overtly racist, but he, by being there, and by using all the code words of the white southern strategy, he locked up the South.

So, when we look at the ebbs and the flows and the lessons and the vision of these two periods, the First Reconstruction and the Second Reconstruction, some of us believe that the current struggle before us now is a sign of the time that we are in the middle of the struggle for a Third Reconstruction in this nation. [applause]

That is why we see the same attacks we saw in the First Reconstruction and the Second Reconstruction:

The attack on voting rights. The attack on fair tax policy. The attack on public education. The attack on labor rights. The attack on women. The attack on LGBT rights. The attack on immigrants’ rights.

The attacks are a sign that we have the possibility of a Third Reconstruction if we don’t give up and (if we) understand what is at stake. [applause]

We are in the middle. And how do I know? Again, it is because the movement in some ways was signaled by the 2008 election of President Obama. Now it wasn’t so much the President, as powerful and as hopeful as we’ve been about that. But what signaled that we were in the possibility of a Third Reconstruction was the emergence of a new majority electorate, especially in southern states.

North Carolina is now 23% African American, and 3-4% Latino. That’s 27%. That means you only need about 24% of whites to vote their future not their fears.

Mississippi is 33% African American. And, when you add Latinos, that means you only need about 15-16% of whites in Mississippi, to vote their future not their fears. Similarly in Georgia.

The campaign of President Obama, not to be partisan, but to be historical, used some of the elements of fusion politics that were used in the 1800s and in the 1960s.

In North Carolina, before he ever ran, we had a movement, the Forward Together movement, that had already changed voting laws before he was on the ballot. We’d already won same-day registration, early voting, and Sunday voting. We challenged even Democrats, and we won.

And, because of that, we opened up the possibility for a broad new electorate. And when president Obama won the state, and won some southern states, that new electorate revealed the potential of a new fusion majority, one that directly challenges the white southern strategy and that scares the daylights of those who want to stay stuck in the past.

But watch what happened. In both the first and the second reconstruction, it took the extremists more than a decade to mount an effective reaction. With Obama’s election, and (this new) electorate, the extremists said, “No!” Not just to him, but even before the man was inaugurated, they were saying no to the possibility of this new fusion politics.

So now we have a political extremist immoral deconstruction effort called by whatever name you want to call it: tea party, Koch money puppets, whatever you want to call it, it’s an immoral agenda of deconstruction. [cheering and applause]

And every now and then we need a few bloggers to tell them, “Y’all ain’t fooling nobody! We know American history too well.”

And every now and then we need to not, as my grandmother would say, be so deep. But just explain what their agenda is, and clearly.

Here’s their agenda… This is their agenda. They are saying, these extremists, “If you want a great America, here is the path to a great America: Deny public education and attack teachers. Undermine public funding of public education and give it to private schools. Deny health care and Medicaid expansion. Leave millions of poor people uninsured. Deny the earned income tax credit. Deny unemployment. Deny labor rights. Deny LGBT rights. Deny women’s rights. Deny immigrants’ rights… and hold vicious rallies against immigrant children when most of you come from immigrants yourself. Cut more taxes for the wealthy, and then declare you don’t have money for critical investments in America’s infrastructure and in programs that uplift America.” And, when you know your agenda can’t survive, say, “If America really wants to be great, then engage in the worst form of voter suppression since Jim Crow.” And then if you really want to have a great nation, tell every lie you can about the President, call him everything but an American and a Child of God, refuse to pass anything just because you don’t like little black girls having pajama parties in the White House. [loud cheering and applause] Come on here. Let’s expose it! Let’s expose what’s going on! And, then, if you really want a great America, after you’ve flamed and blown on the fires of race and class and national hatred, if you want a really good America, make sure everybody can get a gun and make it easier to get a gun than to vote.

That’s their whole immoral deconstructionist agenda! [extended applause]

But hear me. Now hear me on this.

This kind of agenda can’t just be challenged, however,r with a mere left/right debate, or a conservative vs. liberal debate. That language is too puny. And I would humbly submit, not even just calling for a populist movement, because populist movements, especially in the South, have not always been on the side of progressivism.

George Wallace was a populist movement.

And populist movements have not always dealt adequately with race and class. Because populist movements tend to get caught up in, “Is it race or class?” When somebody ask me, “Is it race or class?” I say, “It is.”

You really can’t separate the two if you are going to have transformational politics in America.

And populist movements in the South have not always been willing to deal with labor rights.

And, so, for those of us who are rooted in the history of understanding America’s struggle with reconstruction, we who are moved by the cries of our brothers and sisters, we know that issues like justice and caring for the vulnerable and embracing the stranger and healing the sick and protecting workers and welcoming and being fair to all members of the human family and educating our children, should never be relegated to the moral margins of our social consciousness.

These are not just policy issues. These are not issues for some left/right debate. These are the centerpieces of our deepest tradition of our faith, our values, and our sense of morality and righteousness.

And in this moment how do we think about building a moral movement? We must first start with a vision. What Walter Brueggemann calls a prophetic moral vision that seeks to penetrate the despair. So that we can believe in and embrace new futures.

This kind of vision does not ask at first if the vision can be implemented. Because questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can first be imagined.

Where there is no vision, the people perish.

You see, my brothers and sisters, another lesson from history. The slaves didn’t get out of slavery by first figuring out how to get out. They got out by first knowing they needed to get out.

And then they were driven by a vision that said, “Oh Freedom, Oh Freedom, and before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave, and go home to my Lord and be free.”

Their vision captivated them and penetrated the despair and when the despair was penetrated then they were able to implement ways to get out.

And it’s time for progressives, and liberals, if you call that yourself, whatever you call yourself, to stop walking around in despair. It’s time to fight back, and stand up! [extended applause and cheering]

If we’re going to have a real moral movement that can challenge the efforts at deconstruction in this country, we have to reinstate imagination that is not driven by pundits, but by a larger vision.

I get so tired of folks sitting on TV talking about what’s possible in the South and they don’t even live in the South.

I’m so tired of people talking about what can’t happen. You don’t know what can happen, until you get together and start organizing and start fighting back! [applause]

Dr. King said that most of the time your greatest vision comes in the midst of your darkest night. And moral fusion movements don’t build when everything is fine. Moral fusion movements are a form of dissent that always rises up when things are bad, and dares to say there is a better way. That we’re all connected, that there is a moral way. And we must remind those who make decisions regarding public policy that there are some moral values that can guide us and can capture the imagination of people all over this nation…

We need a recovery of moral dissent.

The kind of moral dissent that Henry David Thoreau had. When someone asked him one day during slavery would he repent of his actions of going to jail and challenging the thing, Henry David Thoreau said, “The only thing I am going to repent of is my good behavior in the face of such injustice. And then I am going to ask myself what demons possessed me to be so quiet when so much wrong was going on.”

We need a recovery of the kind of moral dissent like Martin Luther King, 46 years ago, in one of his last sermons, had. He said, “If you ignore the poor then one day the whole system will collapse and implode.”

We need the kind of moral dissent that says every time we deny living wages and hurt teachers and undermine public education and suppress the right to vote it costs us too much. It damages the soul of our democracy. We must step back into history and bring to the forefront again that kind of moral call. Teddy Roosevelt had it. Good Republican. He said the four moral issues of public policy ought to be labor, education, environmental justice and voting.

Yeah, we ought to lift up what Eisenhower, who said that a public education was a matter of national security.

We ought to lift up what President Johnson said about the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, and the war on poverty, that these were the great moral issues.

We need the kind of moral thinking that caused my parents in 1965-66 to leave Indiana, go back to the South, give up a middle class lifestyle. They understood what they were going back to, but, because of this vision, they left to go back to the South to help integrate public schools. My father is dead now. My mother is alive. She’s 81 years old. She goes to work every day at the school she desegregated. When she went there they called her the n word. Now they call her Miss Barber. [applause and cheering]

We need a recovery of the kind of moral vision that says, we’ll walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, young and old, black and white, Catholic and Jew and Christian. Even in the face of all kinds of odds. We don’t have the money, we don’t have the votes but if we walk possibly we can change the consciousness of the country.

We need to recover the first moral principle of our Constitution. It’s not freedom. It’s not freedom. I get so bothered every time politicians run for office. Some of them, you ask them, “What are you going to do?” They say, “Freedom.” “Why are you against Medicaid expansion?” “Freedom.” “Why are you against taxes?” “Freedom.” Why are you for tax cuts for the wealthy?” “Freedom.” It’s just, “freedom, freedom, freedom, freedom.” They haven’t even read their own Constitution. The first moral principle of our Constitution is the establishment of JUSTICE! [applause]

We need to reclaim the moral concern of that great prayer… One nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

We need the kind of clear moral perspective that Otto Scharmer, the economist at MIT who I had a moment to study with, often speaks of. He says, “We have a blind spot in our economic theory today, and it’s called conscience.”

We need a recovery of the kind of clear and moral response that the Pope used the other day when Rush Limbaugh suggested he was a communist.

And he didn’t stutter, the Pope said right back to Mr. Rush, “You don’t know what communism is: helping the poor, uplifting the poor is not Communism, it’s the heart of the gospel. [applause]

We need the kind of language that’s not left or right, or conservative or liberal, but moral. (We need) fusion language that says, “Look, it’s extreme and immoral to suppress the right to vote. It’s extreme and immoral to deny Medicaid for millions of poor people, especially when people who have been elected to office get insurance simply because they’ve been elected. It’s extreme and immoral to raise taxes on the working poor by cutting earned income taxes and to raise taxes on the poor and middle class in order to cut taxes for the wealthy. It’s extreme and immoral to use power to cut off poor people’s water in Detroit. That’s immoral! What we need to cut off is that kind of abusive power! It’s extreme and immoral to end unemployment (benefits) for those who have lost jobs through no fault of their own. It’s extreme and immoral to resegregate our schools and underfund our public schools. It’s extreme and immoral for people who came from immigrants to now have a mean amnesia and cry out against immigrants and the rights of children. It’s mean, it’s immoral, and it’s extreme to kick hardworking people when they are down. That’s not just bad policy, it’s against the common good and a disregard for human rights. It’s a refusal to lean toward the angels of our better selves.”

In fact, this kind of philosophy, rooted in the premises of immoral deconstruction, if you look at them carefully, they are historically inaccurate.They are constitutionally inconsistent. They are morally indefensible. And they are economically insane. [applause]

So our job, we must reclaim the moral center and shift the center of political gravity. Because, in policy and politics in America, we face two choices. One is the low road to political destruction, and the other is the pathway to higher ground.

And so, my friends, in this moment in history, right now, right here, we’ve been called together to fight against the dangerous agenda of extremism.

I didn’t know any of you all before today but the spirit of the times has called us together to stand against the dangerous agenda of extremism, the ultraconservative right wing that is choosing the low road.

That’s what those who gave America its two greatest periods in the reconstruction did.

And I believe, deep within my being, there is a longing for a moral compass. I know it to be so. Because in North Carolina we found out that, in this moment, we need a transformative moral fusion movement that’s indigenously led, state-based, deeply moral, deeply constitutional, anti-racist, anti-poverty, pro-justice pro-labor movement that brings people together, that doesn’t wait for somebody to rescue you out of Washington, DC, but you mobilize from the bottom up. [extended applause]

Movements never came from DC down! Movements always come from Montgomery up! From Birmingham up! [applause]

And we need to build for the long term. Not just around one issue or one campaign.

We need to stop looking for a messiah candidate and build a movement, we need a deeper language that gets into people’s souls and pulls them into a new place.

Labor rights are not left or right issue. Women’s rights are not left or right issues. Education is not a left or right issue. Helping people when they are 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. [applause]

Not only that, we progressives need a movement where our relationships with our coalition partners are transformative not transactional.

You know we sometimes like those movements where everybody signs that, “I’m with the movement,” but are they really? What we’ve got to have is a movement, and we’ve learned this in North Carolina, that understands the connectivity between the issues, where each partner, yes, embraces your issue, but you also embrace the other issues because you understand the intersectionality.

Let me make it plain for you.

The reality is, the greatest myth of our time is that extremist policies only hurt a small subset of people such as people of color, or women, or poor, or the LGBT community, when in fact they hurt us all.

So we need the kind of coalition where educational advocates stand for education, but they also stand up for LGBT rights. Where health care advocates stand up for health care, but they also stand up for labor rights. Where labor rights people, yes, stand for labor rights, but they also stand up for civil rights.

Why? Because we understand that these tea party type extremists, they are against us all.

The same people that fight labor rights, they fight women’s rights. And the same people that fight women’s rights, fight LGBT rights. And the same people that fight LGBT rights, fight workers’ rights. And the same people that fight workers’ rights, they fight health care rights. And the same people that fight health care rights, they fight immigrants’ rights.

If they are together, and we’re not together, who’s the fool? [applause]

…And we don’t do it by castigating religion. When you want to challenge the religious right, you need to find a good conserv– religious conservative like me.

Oh, I know that language messed y’all up.

But let me tell you why I am a religious conservative. You see in the Bible I read, I read this book I carry with me called the Poverty and Justice Bible, and it has all the scriptures marked in it that deal with justice and uplift of the poor and helping women and children.

And, in that Bible, it’s 2000 scriptures that are marked.

Now I have looked at the religious right’s agenda about being against people who are homosexual, and being against–being for prayer in the school and being against abortion, and I can find about five scriptures that may speak to those issues, and four of them they misinterpret.

And none of them ever trump this ethical demand: that you love your neighbor as yourself. [applause]

And that you do justice and you love mercy!

So what you need to challenge the religious right is not somebody to go on MSNBC or CNN and say, “I don’t have anything to do with that and I just don’t like it…” (What you need is) somebody who is a person of faith to challenge the hypocrisy of faith and say to the religious right, “You really want a moral debate? Bring it on, baby. Bring it on. Bring it here!” [applause]

Because I want to know how you claim to be a conservative when conservative means “to hold onto the essence of.” How are you a conservative if you talk the least about what God talks about the most and the most about what God talks about the least?

But not only that, as I move toward my conclusion, we must have a movement that brings together a diverse coalition that is rooted in hope and not fear…

Let me tell you the agenda that has pulled us together in North Carolina.

One. Securing pro-labor antipoverty policies that ensure economic sustainability.

Two. Educational equality by ensuring every child receives a high-quality well-funded constitutionally diverse public education and access to colleges and community colleges.

Number three. Health care for all, by insuring access to the affordable care act, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, and providing environmental protection for all communities

Number four. Fairness in the criminal justice system by addressing the continuing inequalities in the system, and providing equal protection under the law for black, brown and poor white people

Number five. Protecting and expanding voting rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, immigrants’ rights, and the fundamental principle of equal protection under the law.

If we can’t organize around that agenda then I’m wondering what’s wrong with us…


…My son is an environmental physicist, and every now and then he tells me things about nature. And he told me one day, he said, “Daddy, if you ever get lost in mountainous territory and you have to walk out, don’t walk out through the valley, but climb up the mountain, to higher ground.”

I said, “Why must I climb up the mountain to higher ground?”

He said, “Daddy, snakes live in the lowland. But if you go up the mountain there’s something in biology and environmental studies called a snake line. Snakes can’t live above it. Because they asphyxiate. They suffocate. They’re cold blooded animals and they die.”

Well, in America we’ve got to get our politics above the snake line.

Have mercy, Jesus. Yeah, there are some snakes out here.

There’s some low down policies out here.

There’s some poison out here.

Going backwards on voting rights, that’s below the snake line.

Going backwards on civil rights, that’s below the snake line.

Hurting people just because they have a different sexuality, that’s below the snake line.

Stomping on poor people just because you got power, that’s below the snake line.

Denying health care to the sick and keeping children from opportunity, that’s below the snake line.

But I stopped by to tell you there’s got to be somebody that’s willing to go to higher ground.

Higher ground, where every child is educated.

Higher ground, where the sick receive health care.

Higher ground, where the poor are lifted.

Higher ground, where voting rights are secure.

…And when I go up in the spirit, and I listen to the Lord, sometimes I’m reminded that the moral arc of the universe, it might be long, but it bends toward justice.

Every now and then, when I’m up there on the higher ground, I hear the Lord say, “If God be for you, it doesn’t matter who’s against you.”

Every now and the,n when I’m up there in the stratosphere, up there in the spirit, up there in the higher place I hear the Lord say, “Weeping may endure for a night, tea parties may endure for a night, Koch brothers may endure for a night, oppression may endure for a night, but hang in there, make your way to higher ground, because joy still comes in the morning.”

I hear the prophet Isaiah say, “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up on wings as eagles, they shall run and not get weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

And for those of you that haven’t been to church lately, there’s an “Amen” goes right there…


I should add that I haven’t yet had an opportunity really dig into the history of what Barber calls moral fusion movements America, so I can’t say to what extent, for instance, southern blacks and whites worked together in the wake of the Civil War, as he suggests, to push for progressive reforms. Regardless of how pervasive that movement may have been in the 1860’s, though, I think he’s on to something when he says that nothing brings out the sharp knives of the right wing like the prospect of whites and blacks coming together and talking about social justice. (Martin Luther King wasn’t killed, as you’ll recall, until he started building a successful coalition around poverty that crossed racial lines, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.) Furthermore, I think Barber is absolutely right on the money when he says that, if we want to make true, substantive change, we need to organize around morality. We cannot cede morality to the right. We need to fight for it. We need to reclaim it. There is an enormous opportunity for religious individuals and prograssives to come together on civil rights and social justice, and we cannot afford to let that opportunity pass. All it would take is a willingness on our part to step away from the right/left dichotomy that we’ve been handed and create something new. I know it’s not an easy thing to consider, as we’re in the middle of this all-consuming fight, but, unless we step back and regroup, we’re never going to win.

[note: This transcript of Barber’s speech was abbreviated significantly, and edited somewhat. If you have the time, and can’t watch the above video in its entirety, I’d suggest reading the complete text.]

This entry was posted in Civil Liberties, History and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. EOS
    Posted September 3, 2014 at 5:00 am | Permalink

    It’s not moral for a government to forceably take from the hard working individual and redistribute it to all who think they are entitled to benefits without effort. Freedom and individual rights are the highest morality: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Socialism will stop the engine of the world. This man’s thinking divides our nation into factions pitted against each other – blacks vs. whites, men vs. women, rich vs. poor,… He’s arguing against a paper tiger that doesn’t exist. Political views are not imposed by whatever demographic category applies, but by the intellect of free thinking individuals.

  2. John Galt
    Posted September 3, 2014 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    I agree, EOS. We are never closer to our black brothers than when we have the freedom to remain separate from them. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom. I want my money. Government is bad.

  3. Mr. Y
    Posted September 3, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    I’m curious what you make of this passage, EOS?

    But let me tell you why I am a religious conservative. You see in the Bible I read, I read this book I carry with me called the Poverty and Justice Bible, and it has all the scriptures marked in it that deal with justice and uplift of the poor and helping women and children.

    And, in that Bible, it’s 2000 scriptures that are marked.

    Now I have looked at the religious right’s agenda about being against people who are homosexual, and being against–being for prayer in the school and being against abortion, and I can find about five scriptures that may speak to those issues, and four of them they misinterpret.

    And none of them ever trump this ethical demand: that you love your neighbor as yourself.

  4. Eel
    Posted September 3, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Give him a minute. EOS is thinking.

  5. Meta
    Posted September 3, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Barber is also the President of the North Carolina NAACP.

    From Mother Jones:

    On the last Monday of April 2013, Barber led a modest group of clergy and activists into the state legislative building in Raleigh. They sang “We Shall Overcome,” quoted the Bible, and blocked the doors to the Senate chambers. Barber leaned on his cane as capitol police led him away in handcuffs.

    That might have been the end of just another symbolic protest, but then something happened: The following Monday, more than 100 protesters showed up at the capitol. Over the next few months, the weekly crowds at the “Moral Mondays” protests grew to include hundreds, and then thousands, not just in Raleigh but also in towns around the state. The largest gathering, in February, drew tens of thousands of people. More than 900 protesters have been arrested for civil disobedience over the past year. Copycat movements have started in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama in response to GOP legislation regarding Medicaid and gun control.

    With Moral Mondays, Barber has channeled the pent-up frustration of North Carolinians who were shocked by how quickly their state had been transformed into a laboratory for conservative policies. “He believed we needed to kind of burst this bubble of ‘There’s nothing we can do for two years until the next election,'” explains Al McSurely, a longtime NAACP organizer. But what may be most notable about Barber’s new brand of civil rights activism is how he’s taken a partisan fight and presented it as an issue that transcends party or race—creating a more sustained pushback against Republican overreach than anywhere else in the country.

    Read more:

  6. EOS
    Posted September 3, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Mr. Y,

    I’ve attended a number of conservative christian churches and never once found any that interpreted the Bible in the manner that Rev. Barber does. Love God and love your neighbor are important Biblical concepts. My interpretation, and most conservatives, does not support the idea that government should take from the wealthy to help the poor. I interpret it as using my funds to help the poor. When the government takes more of my money, I have less to give. The government rarely makes the same moral choices I do. In fact, the government is prohibited from supporting religious based charities. Myself, I want my charitable dollars going somewhere that it will make an eternal difference. Considering the biblical verses to be true that state that God considers homosexual behavior to be sin, is not at all the same as being against people who are homosexual. Hate the sin, love the sinner. Valuing God-given life makes one opposed to abortion. God created all of us and sees as all as His children. I don’t think He approves of government laws that apply only to some demographics and not equally to all. He offers free grace to everyone. If progressive hipsters refuse, do you think He is going to entertain their charge of unequal outcomes or discrimination? What will you think if heaven doesn’t proportionately mimic demographics? Would that make God a racist?

  7. Eel
    Posted September 3, 2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    You’re not making sense, EOS. You must be lightheaded. Quick, get back below the snake line before it’s too late.

  8. Shamwow
    Posted September 3, 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    EOS, how do you reconcile the fact that you eat shrimp, pork, and lobster and yet other passages in Leviticus ban all those things with the same levity as the passage against homosexuality?

  9. Meta
    Posted September 3, 2014 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Absentee voting starts this week in North Carolina:

    Voting in midterm elections that will determine control of Congress ends this fall. But it starts in North Carolina this week.

    On Friday, election officials begin mailing absentee ballots there, followed soon by Alaska and Georgia — with no excuses required. Iowans can vote in person beginning Sept. 25. After decades of expansion in American voting methods, an estimated one-third of all ballots will be cast before the traditional Election Day on Nov. 4.

    Yet this year, the trend collides with a Republican-led pushback in some states — for reasons of cost-cutting and election integrity or, as the Obama administration and civil rights groups suggest, crimping turnout by Democrats. Various new restrictions on voting, which range from more stringent identification requirements to fewer registration opportunities to curbs on early voting, have been put into place. A key election variable is whether the new limits will tilt close races.

    They might not. New voting restrictions have proven to be mobilizing tools for constituencies that feel threatened by them. In 2012, President Obama won battleground states, such as Florida and New Hampshire, where new limits had taken effect.

    Read more:

  10. Dirtgrain
    Posted September 3, 2014 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    EOS: “It’s not moral for a government to forceably take from the hard working individual and redistribute it to all who think they are entitled to benefits without effort.”

    This makes it sound like you think people should be compensated proportionately to their efforts. Do you think this?

    Surely you are opposed to inheritance, what with it entailing people getting “benefits without effort.”

    Is it also not moral to have a system where a relative few own most of our resources?

    EOS: “Socialism will stop the engine of the world.”

    Some of the elements of our government that you would call socialist were in place as the USA became the most powerful country in the world (past tense, maybe). What say you to that?

    EOS: “I don’t think He approves of government laws that apply only to some demographics and not equally to all. He offers free grace to everyone. If progressive hipsters refuse, do you think He is going to entertain their charge of unequal outcomes or discrimination? What will you think if heaven doesn’t proportionately mimic demographics? Would that make God a racist?”

    You would speak for God? Do you know God completely? If not, what percentage of God do you know? If you only know a percentage, then how could you speak for God at all?

  11. rik
    Posted September 3, 2014 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    smash the capitalist state!

  12. EOS
    Posted September 3, 2014 at 6:11 pm | Permalink


    Yes, I think it is just to compensate a person who works harder and is more productive with a higher level of pay. I also think that those who risk their capital in business ventures should reap the reward. Those who use their intellect to design a better mousetrap or a more efficient process should benefit. And those who show up for their 8 hours, doing the least amount of work possible, should not expect their pay to equal those who invest their sweat equity and financial resources.

    An inheritance is given by the person who earned it to a person of their own choosing. It was rightly earned, the taxes were paid, and the person who earned it should be able to spend it in the manner of their own choosing. That’s freedom. If a government confiscates it and takes it from the designated person – that’s tyranny.

    Because some level of socialism didn’t immediately destroy our economy is not evidence that a little socialism was at all beneficial, and certainly doesn’t justify increasing levels of socialism.

    Unequal distribution of resources may be indicative of immorality, but whose? If the system allows people to climb the ladder by stepping on the backs of others, than the system is immoral. But, if the inequality is a result of laziness and lethargy of the masses, then it’s the people who are immoral. I think it’s a mix of both.

    Does Rev. Barber speak for God? He’s the one who claimed that God speaks to him about the Koch brothers and tea parties while he is there in the higher place.

  13. EOS
    Posted September 3, 2014 at 6:25 pm | Permalink


    You’ve convinced me. I’ll never eat shrimp, pork, or lobster again nor will I wear any polyester/cotton blends. Will you stop all fornication?

  14. Shamwow
    Posted September 4, 2014 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    I will if you will.

  15. EOS
    Posted September 4, 2014 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Great! It’s a deal. Even though my conscience is clear, if my eating certain foods causes you to rationalize sin, I will refrain from eating those foods. That’s what my Bible says is the right thing to do.

    I Corinthians 8

    4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

    7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

    9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

  16. Dirtgrain
    Posted September 4, 2014 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    EOS: “Does Rev. Barber speak for God? He’s the one who claimed that God speaks to him about the Koch brothers and tea parties while he is there in the higher place.”

    You did not answer my questions. Duly noted.

    No, I don’t think he speaks for God.

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] Here’s hoping that, in the coming year, we get even further above the snake line. […]

  2. […] Barber II, and he’s not the kind of man to just back down from a fight. [Reverend Barber, who I first told you about back in 2014, is the head of the North Carolina NAACP, and he’s one hell of an organizer.] When I heard […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


BUY LOCAL... or shop at Amazon through this link Banner Initiative Vinnie Header