The Rev. Dr. William Barber: We Can Do Something, We Don’t Have To Take This

Democracy Wire welcomes guest author Hedrick Smith, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and documentarian whose newest documentary, The People v. The Politicians will air on MSNBC this summer. Democracy Wire will feature Smith's writing and videos leading up to the air dates. Today, Smith talks with the Rev. Dr. William Barber of North Carolina, who reminds us of the morality at the heart of our democracy, our fundamental belief in human dignity that each of us has an equal say in the future for our families, communities, and nation.

One of the most potent, outspoken champions of We the People is the Reverend William Barber, pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Barber is an activist preacher in the mold of Martin Luther King Jr. Like Dr. King, Barber employs peaceful protest and civil disobedience as techniques for challenging unfairness in both our politics and our economic system.

Like King, Barber is a riveting speaker, an uncompromising fighter for voting rights and a formidable civic force to be reckoned with. He is the driving engine of a grassroots movement that has already won important victories in his home state of North Carolina, and now he’s launching a broader movement to fight against poverty across the country.

“If you’re going to fix this system, you have to have a movement strategy that shifts the consciousness of the country,” Barber declares, echoing King’s philosophy in the battle for civil and voting rights in the 1960s.

Moral Monday is Barber’s movement. It’s a racially diverse coalition of 93 civic advocacy groups that has rebelled against North Carolina’s racial gerrymandering and restrictive voter photo ID bill. With the state legislature meeting on Mondays, Barber started organizing Monday protests at the capitol. From a handful of kindred souls, he built Moral Mondays into mass demonstrations drawing 10,000, 25,000 even 80,000 people into huge protests against lawmakers enacting what Moral Monday saw as laws that were unfair to minorities, the poor and the working middle class.

Fixing American Democracy from the Bottom Up

Barber has now set his sights well beyond the borders of his home state. But his target is not Washington; it is other states. For Barber believes that if we are going to fix American democracy, change has to come from the bottom up, state by state.

“What I believe is that you surely can’t fix the federal without fixing the state,” Barber says. “I don’t know of any time where movements began in DC. Movements began in Montgomery, Birmingham, Greensboro. It’s like the roots of a tree. What I believe is what Dr. King said when he had the March on Washington. At the end of the day he didn’t say, ‘Come back to DC.’ He said, ‘Go back to Alabama.”

Following the same path of Martin Luther King when his life was cut short in Memphis, Tennessee, Rev. Barber is pressing economic fairness as well as political fairness. He has launched on a Poor People’s Crusade in 25 states, mobilizing support to move a nation, state by state, community by community.