By Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II
Note: This is an excerpt of an acceptance speech given by Rev. Barber on November 6, 2013, when he received the Paul Wellstone Citizen Leadership Award from the Campaign for America’s Future. During this speech, he announced the February 8, 2014 nationwide Moral March on Raleigh N.C. and explained its importance. Learn more from the Moral March on Raleigh web page.
We believe that we are in the middle of a third reconstruction, a time of great transformation.
We believe the forces of extremism and regressivism understand that a future is coming that cannot be denied. We believe that in this moment, in order to change the nation and prepare for the future, we need state-based movements rooted in our deepest constitutional moral and religious values that are decidedly anti-racist and anti-poverty that have national implications.
Transformative movements always begin from Montgomery up, from Selma up, from Raleigh up, which is why 50 years ago Dr. King’s instructions were so clear to the devotees of civil rights. He said if you want a new America, don’t necessarily come back to Washington, but go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to North Carolina and build state movements that challenge the injustices and state capitals that have national implications.
We believe we must have movements that are not transactional but transformative, where people come together and challenge the policies of extremism in the court room, in the legislature, in the social media, ballot box, and even with civil disobedience.
We believe there must be a direct challenge for the so-called moral framework of extremism, paid for by Tea Party and Koch money and Art Pope money in North Carolina. And the ultraconservative moral framework that says moral issues are limited to praying in the schools and abortion rights and homosexuality. We believe this is both hypocritical and heretical.
We believe there must be a direct challenge to this limitation. We must declare without retreat that our constitutional values—establishing justice, promoting the general welfare, the common good, the good of the whole—must be the critique and at the center of every public policy decision. And the moral values of doing justice and loving mercy and caring for the least of these; lifting the poor, and healing the sick and welcoming the stranger and uplifting children; and declaring as the prophets of old say woe unto those who legislate evil and rob the poor of their rights. Or to say like Jesus said, “When I was hungry did you feed me? When I was naked did you clothe me? When I was sick did you visit me?”
This framework must be at the center of our public policy life, because within this framework economic sustainability is a moral issue. Budgets are a moral issue. Health care is a moral issue. Living wages is a moral issue. Voting rights is a moral issue. Rights of our immigrant friends are moral issues. Women’s rights are a moral issue. Treating our LGBT friends with respect and dignity, and not hate and disdain, is a moral issue.
So, we say to our progressive and liberal friends: Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. It was on the framework of moral issues that we changed this country in the first reconstruction in the 1800s, and in the second reconstruction in the 1960s.
And we say to those who have for too long hijacked and held hostage the moral and values debate in this country, particularly in the South, that day is over. That day is over.
Your actions have been weighed in the balance, we say to the so-called Christian right that is often so wrong. Your actions have been weighed in the balance; we love you, but you are not the true conservatives. We are, because we want to conserve the essence of faith and that is love, and justice, and righteousness, and mercy. We love you, but we must tell you that your limited view of morality have been found wanting because they are morally indefensible, constitutionally inconsistent, and economically insane. So if you want a moral debate in America, then bring it on. We are ready for it. Bring it on. Bring it on.
And finally, we have found in North Carolina that when you build from the ground up a state-based movement with national implications, when we found that when we become a catalyst for discourse, moral discourse, that is not rooted in the limited language of liberal verses conservative, or Democrat verses Republican, but instead the moral language of what is moral verses immoral, what is extreme verses what is constitutional and just, it brings people together. It creates a new fusion of politics; it binds our hearts together; it, in ways that are unmistakably powerful, it brings hope. And so I took a moment from the front line to come and accept this award on behalf of all those in the Moral Monday movement.
Nine hundred and forty-one have been arrested. Never before have that many people been arrested challenging the immoral actions of a state capital. They said when 17 of us got arrested on April 29, that wouldn’t make a difference. But 30 weeks later, nearly 1,000 have been arrested. Thousands have joined; over one million hits on social media. Every week there is another rally in North Carolina, even out in the mountains there are rallies. And down east there are rallies and in the middle of North Carolina there are rallies.
The governor called us outsiders, but now the governor who was at 60 percent in the polls when we started is now under 30 percent.
The extreme members of the legislature called us morons and used the tactic of the Mississippi Sovereign Commission, with one of their policy groups sabotaging us and putting our names and our addresses all over the Internet. They were around 40 percent when we started but now they are under 19 percent.
Moral Monday is polling among all North Carolinians at over 48 percent. One writer said that our governor is the 18th worst governor in the country, and Moral Monday is one of the top 40 movements in the world. And it’s growing every day.
And so we are making a call tonight. We built from the ground up but tonight we want you to join us on February 8. All roads lead to North Carolina. Just like they announced us to come to Selma in the 1960s, we are asking you to join us for a mass moral march on Raleigh on February 8 to send a signal throughout this state and throughout this country that we are not going backwards.
We want you to come and be there with us. Come on down, and let’s send a signal throughout the South that a new day is here: a new day of voting, a new day of working together, a new day of standing together, a new day of changing things together.
There may be a temporary anomaly in North Carolina, but when the people come together we have never defeated and as we sing at every Moral Monday, if we stay together and stand together I’ve got a feeling, I’ve got a real good feeling, that everything is going to be all right.
Come on down. Let’s change this nation.