William J. Barber II - Shifting the Moral Conversation About the Poor - Extended Interview

Extended - June 5, 2017 - William J. Barber II 06/05/2017 Views: 61,587

Repairers of the Breach founder William J. Barber II talks about America's history of systematic racism and explains how citizens can protest using civil disobedience. (12:52)

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Please welcome the ReverendDr. William Barber II.

(cheers and applause)

Thank you very much.

Welcome to the show.

I'm glad to be here, Trevor.

I'm glad to have you here.

It was, uh, Cornel West,I think, who said,

"The Reverend William Barber II

"is the closest thingthis generation will have

to a Martin Luther King Jr.,"which is...

one heck of a complimentto give somebody.

But what he was referring towas a person who is leading

and is not involved in politics.


Some people would say to you,"You're a reverend.

"Why not just be involvedin religion?

Why are you getting involvedin politics at all?"

Why are you?

Well, first of all,not necessarily

in partisan politicsbut the Bible itself,

it's political.

The gospel is political,

and thosethat don't understand that

actually push a form of whatI call modern-day heresy.

If you thinkabout Jesus' first sermon,

He said, "The spiritof the Lord's upon me

to preach good newsto the poor."

The word "poor" thereis a Greek word, ptóchos,

which meansthose who have been made poor

because ofeconomic exploitation.

Moses stood up to Pharaoh.

The whole New Testamentis about a-a group of people

who find themself in a time

when a blonde-haired, blue-eyedCaesar is on the throne

who loves to build towersto himself

and put his face everywhere.

-That sounds familiar.-Yeah.

And-and the one percent

is taking everythingfrom the 99%,

uh, and they are calledto stand up to that.

-Right.-Jesus' first sermon.

So I don't know any wayto be a person of faith

and not be concerned abouthow we're treating the poor.

How we're treatingthe least of these.

How we're ensuring health care.

How we're breaking the backof the prison-industrial complex

and how we are respectingthe image of God in all people

regardless of their race,their color,

their religionor their sexuality.

Now, you're doing allof this work in North Carolina,

which in many wayshas become a microcosm

for everything that America is.

You have the imbalancesbetween rich and poor.

You have a Democratic state

that voted Democratfor a long time

and thenall of a sudden switched

and voted for Donald Trumpand voted Republican.

You have a place wherethere has been gerrymandering,

where there's a lotof racial discrimination.

In fact, the supreme courtjust made a ruling today.

If we move throughsome of these ideas,

let's talk first and foremostabout the gerrymandering

that has afflictedNorth Carolina.

This is, what,the fourth court case?

It's the fourthcourt case victory...

the third victory we've hadon gerrymandering

in the last three weeks.

And we also had a major victorylast year on voter suppression.

You know, now, North Carolina'shad an interesting history.

It's not as progressiveas people tend to think.

You know, we electedJesse Helms for years.

Uh, the only Democraticcandidate that won

for presidency other thanJimmy Carter was Barack Obama.

But that's significant.When President Obama

broke through in the Southin North Carolina in 2008,

we had just passed same-dayregistration and early voting.

2010, during redistricting,

-Trevor... they wentredistricting crazy. -Right.

They created apartheiddistricts, right?

And that stacked and packedblack voters

in a way that,in the 2012 election,

more progressivesvoted for progressives,

but becauseof the redistricting,

we end up with a super majorityextremist, uh, legislature.

That extremist legislature

then passesevery law they could.

They were anti-Medicaidexpansion,

anti-immigrant, anti-gay,anti-public education,

anti-living wage,and then they decided

to pass the worstracist voter suppression law

in the country. Now,they waited until after Shelby.

The Shelby decision,when the Supreme Court

took away preclearance.

But what we should knowabout this is in 2010,

part of the backlashthat the e... to the elect...

It wasn't so muchPresident Obama, it was that

black-white fusion,La... uh, Latino, young, old,

electorate that began to change,particularly the South.

22 states passed

racist voter suppression laws

and racially drivenredistricting laws.

22 states-- that's fo...They used to represent.

57% of African-American voters,44 U.S. senators

and over 50%of the United States congress.

That started in 2010.I got a secret for you.

(whispers):It wasn't the Russians.

-Racism.-(audience laughs)

Racism hacked this system

before Trump was ever elected,

before he and Putingot together.

It was racism, racially...

uh, uh, ger...racial gerrymandering

and racist voter suppression

that set upthe congress we have now,

-the state legislatures now.-Right.

And you know what,the people who got hurt the most

by the policies that have beenelected by these so-called,

um... what I call consti...

unconstitutionallyconstituted legislators

have been poor whites.

Now, let-let's talkabout that for a second.

Because... one partof your message

that has constantlyresonated with people

seems to be that you focus

on that word: "poor."

You know, the newpoor people's movement.

Going around the country--I mean, you were

the leader of the NAACPin North Carolina,

you are nowrelinquishing that role

to go out intothe rest of America

and begin a largerdiscussion around poverty.

What does that mean--"the new people's movement"?

What does it meanwhen you say "fusion"?

And what do you meanby white people

being the most affected by this?

That doesn't go to a lotof people's narratives.

First of all, in orderto understand America,

you have to understandthat what we see now

is as American as apple pie.

When someone uses racial fear

and hatred in order to excitepeople's temperament

and to get elected--it's not new.

This same process, similarly,

happened right afterthe Civil War.

After there was a period ofwhat's called Reconstruction,

then there wasa deconstruction effort.

And what did they do?They used racial fear,

-attacks on voting rights,-Right.

attacks on... tack on... taxes.

Or called it for tax cuts.

Same thing happened afterthe civil rights movement.

We ended up withthe solid South.

So we're seeing, kind of...We're in the birth pains

of a third reconstruction.

What I...What Dr. King said 50 years ago,

he said we neededa radical revolution of values.

We believe,Leo... Liz Theoharis,

the Kairo Center, and pooractivists across the country

and other peoplewho are coming together,

we need a moral revi-revivalof values

that deals with systemic racism,

not just when somebody saysthe N-word but systemic racism,

policies that hurt peopledespite... because of color,

poverty, the war economy,

and national morality.Think about it, Trevor--

we just camethrough a presidential election.

26 debates on both sidesof the aisle.

You didn't hear the word "poor."

Even though there are over100 million working poor people

in this country,14 million poor children.

We have the h... we are 34th outof 35 advanced countries

in the poverty among children.

There are 64 million peoplethat make less than $15 an hour.

We didn't hear a real discussionabout systemic racism.

We didn't hear a real discussionabout how the war economy

impacts and underminesour ability

to really dealwith our domestic issues.

Dr. King said--and we have to hear today--

that is a moral deficit.

When you go throughan entire presidential election

and you talk about tweets,e-mails, and texts

more than you talkabout our poverty,

systemic racismand the war economy

and national moralityfrom the perspective of justice,

we need a revival of valuesin this country.

Otherwise, we will continueto see the likes of Trump

and others get elected.

Here's a questionI have for you.

You say you need to seea revival in the U.S.

But could it not be arguedthat there is nothing to revive,

if America's historyis so fraught with racial,

uh, you know, injustices,

if America's use of religionis punctuated

by so many moments of peopleusing a false religion

to put others down?

I mean, people use, uh, religion

-to justify oppressinggay people -That's right.

-or to justify oppressing women.-Right.

So is it a revivalor is it something new

or is it a-a revival of an idea?

Well, they misuse religion.

I think... You know, I sharedwith you a Bible in the back

that has all 2,000 scripturesin the Bible

that talk about loveand justice.

So you had slavery, but thenyou have white abolitionists

and evangelicals and FrederickDouglass and Sojourner Truth

come together and really changethe heart of the country.

You had a civil rights movement,you had Jim Crow.

But then you have Rosa Parksand Viola Liuzzo,

a white woman, and Rabbi Heschel

and Dorothy Dayand Martin Luther King.

They come together and theybuild these fusion coalitions,

um, um, with each other,

rootedin our deepest moral values,

religious, and our deepestconstitutional values.

You know, the first principleof our Constitution

is the establishment of justice.

That's the first principle.

And then there's the principle

of promotingthe general welfare.

We have made... allow peopleto make "welfare"

a liberal word or a dirty word,

when "welfare"is a constitutional word.

So what we're saying is,we've seen periods in history.

Every progressive, uh, movement,

every progressive idea

that has taken rootin this country

or around the world hada deep moral underpinning.

Whether it wasthe abolition movement,

whether it wasthe civil rights movement,

whether it wasTheodore Roosevelt 100 years ago

saying that we needed universalhealthcare as a moral issue,

whether it was the New Deal,

whether it wasWomen's suffrage--

always there was this revivalof our moral center

and our moral core thatchallenged both parties,

that challenged all peopleto go to higher ground.

Right now, you know,we're in some low ground.

My son isan environmental physicist,

and he told me a story.

He said, "Daddy,if you ever find yourself out

"in the wilderness, don't walkthrough the wilderness

'cause snakes liveat low ground."

He said "Go up the mountain,

"because there is somethingcalled a snake line,

and if you can get high enough,snakes asphyxiate."

Well, you know,Anti-LGBT people

is above the...below the snake line.

Racism is belowthe snake line.

Voter suppressionis below the snake line.

Hating Muslims is belowthe snake line.

A country that would be arguingabout taking healthcare

is abov...below the snake line.

We have to have movementsthat will rise...

take us above the snake line.

And so, what we're saying is,what if for 80 days,

we had poor people and scholarsand preachers come together

for a seasonof civil disobedience

around an agenda we're doing

called"The Souls of Poor People,"

auditing Americaon race and poverty

and the war economysince the 1960s.

And what if we didn't justtarget Trump?

'Cause he's a symptom.

What if went... targetedMcConnell and Ryan

and 25 state capitolsas a minimum,

and people of all differentraces, colors, creeds,

and sexuality were willingto literally engage

in civil disobediencewithout an agenda? 2,000 and...

Now are you talking about whatyou did in North Carolina?

-Similar to what you did?-Similar, but...

-Sitting inat the state house... -Yes, sir.

...and making yourselves seen,making yourselves heard?

Yes, sir,to shift the narrative,

because the power of lifeand death is in the tongue.

We can't even have a new politicuntil we have a new language.

The language we're using nowis too puny.

Left versus right,liberal versus conservative.

Who said I'm just on the left?

Why do you spenda whole argument

saying people are right,

and then try to convince themthey're wrong?

"The people on the rightare wrong."

Where does that languageeven come from?

Comes from the 17th century,

uh, the French revolution.

Who says Trevor is a liberalor a conservative?

Why can't you be bothif you want to conserve justice

and liberally spread itto everybody?

-The languagewe have is so puny. -Right.

We're not even...We have politicians,

even Democratic politiciansthat'll say,

"We're trying to fightfor the middle class."

Well, what about allof these millions

of people that are poor?

How can we leave people out andnot even say the word "poor"?

We said, "Those who arestriving to make it

into the middle class."

Or we Boehner when...

You remember when he said, um,

-poor people had an idea theydidn't have to work. -Right.

Or Paul Ryan suggesting

that poor people are on somekind of glorified vacation.

The language is too puny.

And we need a movement

that can reshift the moralconversation in this country.

(applause and cheering)

-An honor having youon the show. -Thank you.

Thank you very much, Reverend.

For more informationabout his work,

check out the Web sitepoorpeoplescampaign.org.

Reverend William Barber,everybody.

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