Despite Electoral Defeat, Rev. Barber Touts “Forward Together” Triumph

Isaiah J. Poole


Listen to the OurFuture.org interview of Rev. William Barber II.

Rev. William Barber II’s new book, “Forward Together: A Moral Message To The Nation,” traces the advance of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina, which rose up in response to the right-wing takeover of the North Carolina state government in 2012. But what it doesn’t include is what movement participants hoped would be an electoral triumph: the defeat of state House Speaker Thom Tillis, who pushed a series of hard-right initiatives though the legislature, in his race for the U.S. Senate.

That triumph didn’t happen. But Barber, in an interview weeks later, said the results would still add a positive chapter to the book.

“It worked. The movement worked,” he said. “I know that might sound strange but that’s the difference between movement time and moral time.”

“We never judged our movement by one election,” he added in the interview, but by the overall success in building a fusion coalition that is state-based, “deeply moral, deeply constitutional, anti-racist [and] anti-poverty.” On that score, Barber considers the fact that in spite of voter suppression efforts passed by the Republicans in the state legislature, more than $100 million poured into the state, and “every conservative extremist trick that has ever been played,” Tillis was only able to “eke out a 1.6 percent vote in a statewide Senate campaign” against incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan.

The backbone of Barber’s book is the series of speeches he presented during 2013 and 2014 as he led a series of nearly weekly demonstrations in front of the North Carolina state legislature. From his perch as the head of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, he brought together a broad coalition of people affected by the attacks on labor rights, access to heath care, voting rights, public school funding, marriage equality and a host of other issues. Tens of thousands of people had been mobilized by the series of protests.

Barber compared the impact of the Moral Monday movement to the impact of the 1963 March in Washington. “The March on Washington didn’t change everybody that was elected in 1964,” he said. “What it did was change the context in which they had to operate.”

Likewise, because of the force of the Moral Monday movement, Barber said, Tillis in his Senate race was compelled to campaign on expanding Medicaid, after helping to lead the state’s rejection of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. “Now, we believe that was just a political ploy,” he said, but the Moral Monday movement had so successfully raised the availability of Medicaid as an issue that Tillis had to reverse course at least rhetorically on that issue, as well as on cuts to education he had previously championed, in order to win.

Barber also claims success in improving turnout of African Americans and young people over what had been seen in previous elections. “So our movement is in no ways tired. We are in fact emboldened.”

Barber attempts throughout his book to move the political dialogue away from Democrat versus Republican or even progressive versus conservative, and move it toward a debate between what is morally right, just, fair and economically sensible versus “those things that are constitutionally inconsistent, morally indefensible and economically insane.”

The most transformative reform movements that brought America closer to its ideals of equality and justice were rooted in the language of morality, Barber insists. That includes what Barber calls the first two Reconstructions – the first Reconstruction being the period following the Civil War and the second being the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“We believe that in the 21st century, as we are in the embryonic stage of a Third Reconstruction, we need to return and recover that language that talks about budgets and health care and public education and LGBT rights and immigrant rights and labor rights and criminal justice system as moral issues,” Barber said.

Barber says he is not interested in what he calls “microwave movements” that by being discouraged on short-term setbacks miss the opportunity for greater victory later. “If you judge Christianity by [Good] Friday, you miss Sunday resurrection,” he said.

The final chapter of the book, “Lessons from the Movement,” includes a list of 12 “do’s” that Barber says have been central to the success of the Moral Mondays movement. In the interview, Barber said that on Tuesday he is meeting with people from 12 states on how to replicate the Moral Mondays formula elsewhere. That meeting represents the next chapter in the story, in which more leaders are brought up to spread throughout the country the gospel of “forward together, not one step back.”

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