Let’s Get Our Politics Above The Snake Line

Dave Johnson

We’ve got to make our way to higher ground. We’ve got to get our politics above the snake line.

People came to Netroots Nation to see Senator Elizabeth Warren speak, and discovered Rev. William Barber when they got here. If you are not yet tuned in to Rev. Barber you absolutely have to watch this speech (or a speech the prior week, at the American Federation of Teachers convention; I actually recommend watching both. After you watch this you will want to watch the other.)

“They fight even his wife when she just wants children to eat vegetables.”

What are we up against? Barber explains, “The Kochs, the Tea Party – no matter what you want to call it – they deny public education and attack teachers, they deny Medicaid expansion and leave millions uninsured, they deny immigrants’ rights, womens’ rights, they lower taxes for the wealthy and then declare we don’t have money for basic needs, they engage in the worst form of voter suppression since Jim Crow.

They refuse to pass anything.

They fight even [President Obama’s] wife when she just wants children to eat vegetables!”

A Moral Crisis, Not A Political Crisis

Rev. Barber talks about the moral roots of our progressive fight for equality and justice for all Americans, not just an already-wealthy few. He says the country is in a moral crisis, not a partisan, political crisis.

Barber traces the history of the fight between the conservatives and people fighting for rights since the Civil War, especially in the South where they engineered “the immoral agenda of deconstruction.” He concludes we need a movement – a moral movement – to fight this. We need “a prophetic moral vision that penetrates despair.”

“The first moral principle of our constitution is the establishment of justice. One nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. We have a blind spot win our economic theory today, it’s called conscience.

This is not communism, it’s the heart of the Gospel.

We must proclaim the moral center and shift the center of political gravity.”

So how do we build a movement? Barber again:

“There is a longing for a moral compass. Don’t wait for somebody to rescue you from Washington D.C. but build a moral movement from the bottom up. We need to stop looking for a messiah candidate and build a movement.”

Richard Eskow explains in his brilliant post, Snakes and Ladders at Netroots Nation,

Rev. Barber had some words of caution, admonishing his audience to criticize Democrats as well as Republicans when appropriate. He told them that theirs is a moral mission, not a partisan one. And he said that change begins with a vision, not a plan.

“The slaves didn’t get free by figuring out how to get freedom,” he said. “They got free by singing ‘before I’ll be a slave I’ll be buried in my grave, and go home to my Lord …’”

The Reverend was saying, in effect, that freedom begins with freedom songs. The strategy sessions come later.

The Snake Line

“My son is an environmental physicist, and he told me, ‘Daddy, if you ever get lost in mountainous territory … don’t walk out through the valley but climb up the mountain to higher ground.”

“Snakes live in the lowland, but if you go up the mountain there’s something…called a “snake line;” snakes can’t live above it…they’re cold-blooded animals and they die.”

“There are some snakes out here. There are 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’ve 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 secured…Neighbor, we’ve got to take America above the snake line…America is better than this. It’s time to go above the snake line

When I go up in the spirit and I listen to the Lord sometimes…I heard the Lord say…Tea Party 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…”

We’ve got to make our way to higher ground. We’ve got to get our politics above the snake line.

P.S. Here is the AFT speech, too, in case you’re fired up and ready to go … see it.


Click here to support Rev. Barber’s Freedom Summer project.

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