Reverend William Barber and his co-workers in the emerging Poor People’s Campaign visited Milwaukee, Wisconsin on August 28, at the Saint Gabriel’s Church of God. After inspirational singing, introductory remarks by Rev. Liz Theoharis, head of the Kairos Center in New York City, and testimonials representing Black Lives Matter in Minneapolis, and the Fight for Fifteen, and Veterans for Peace in Milwaukee, Reverend Barber gave an uplifting speech announcing the forthcoming Poor People’s Campaign.Moral Mondays Campaigns
Reverend Barber was instrumental in working with North Carolinians for over a decade to build a multi-national, multi-generational, multi-issue movement to oppose racist, exploitative, and sexist policies that became law when reactionary forces gained control of the government of North Carolina in 2012. He and his co-workers also helped launch Moral Mondays movements, modeled after the North Carolina struggle, in several other states in the South, the Midwest, and the Southwest. In Indiana, that state’s Moral Mondays movement adopted an agenda to advocate for policies endorsed in North Carolina. These included:
Securing pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that insure economic sustainability;
Providing well-funded, quality public education for all;Standing up for the health of every Hoosier by promoting health care access and environmental justice across all the state's communities;
Addressing the continuing inequalities in the criminal justice system and ensuring equality under the law for every person, regardless of race, class, creed, documentation or sexual preference;Protecting and expanding voting rights for people of color, women, immigrants, the elderly and students to safeguard fair democratic representation.
In his Saturday, September 20, 2014 speech to the 400 people rallying at the Indiana State House, Rev. Barber said he was told by his son, an environmental physicist, that if he ever got lost in mountainous territory he should walk to higher ground. This is necessary, Barber reported, because in the lowlands snakes congregate but if one climbs above the “snake line” snakes, being cold-blooded creatures, cannot live.Referring to the snake line metaphor Barber declared:
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.Rev. Barber urged the newly formed Indiana Moral Mondays coalition to “go to higher ground,” where poverty is ended, everybody can vote, children can be educated, the sick can be healed, and everyone is respected.
Moral Mondays campaigns in various states, including Indiana, achieved some successes. They mobilized multiple constituencies: white and black, gay and straight, men and women, young and old, religious and non-believers to fight back against emerging reactionary Tea Party/Koch Brothers policies and politicians. In his home state of North Carolina, Moral Mondays campaigners were able to oust the reactionary governor in the 2016 election. And Reverend Barber, himself, has gone on to become a national spokesperson for progressive policies.Theory and Practice of Moral Mondays
Barber has grounded the Moral Mondays movement in history and theory. As to the former, Barber has talked about three reconstructions in United States history. The first, after the US Civil War, was based upon a vision and practice of Black/white unity and the struggle for democracy and equality in the nation. It was crushed by the resurgence of the white supremacist planter class in the South, their political collaborators in the North, and the institutionalization of racial segregation. The second reconstruction began metaphorically with Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954 and spanned the decade of successful struggle against segregation in the South in the 1960s. It too was sidetracked, this time by candidate and President Nixon’s so-called “southern strategy” to bring white supremacy back to the South and the nation. We are living through the third reconstruction, Reverend Barber suggested, signified by the two elections of Barack Obama president and the emergence of social movements to finally create racial and economic justice in America.
Today, 2017, he said, the struggle has reached a pivotal stage, with an ethical crisis so deep that a national moral campaign based on fusion politics is needed. Fusion politics, the theoretical underpinning of Moral Mondays, argues that all the issues and policies that have inspired action against the exploitation of workers, institutionalized racism (Black, Brown, Muslim, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant), patriarchy, homophobia, environmental devastation, and war are interconnected. The struggle against one is and has to include the struggle against all the others. Fusion is a conceptual tool that requires thinking about the interconnection of issues and a mobilizing tool that sees the interconnections of social movements.The Twenty-First Century Poor People’s Campaign
The twenty-first century Poor People’s Campaign, around which Barber and his co-workers are organizing, takes the Moral Mondays campaign to another level. Moral Mondays was about state level issues. It concentrated on domestic policy. It awakened progressives to the critical idea that most of the anti-people policies of the last decade supported by reactionary billionaires like the Koch Brothers, were instituted at the state level. Therefore Moral Mondays began, appropriately, as a series of state campaigns. Now, Barber suggests, there is a need to take the struggle to the entire nation. Local, national, and international issues are connected. Anti-racist, antisexist, anti-worker policies at the state level are connected to similar developments at the national level. AND, all these issues have global dimensions as well.This new necessity led naturally to reflections on the last project initiated by Dr. Martin Luther King in the spring of 1968, a Poor People’s Campaign. This was a national campaign organized by and for the poor in America, today representing about 40 percent of the population. The specific program was to organize a march/rally/occupation of Washington D.C. to demand an end to poverty in America. Dr. King, in his famous speech at Riverside Church one year earlier articulated the fundamental interconnections, the fusion, of three primary structural problems in America: poverty, racism, and militarism.
Sixty years later, Reverend Barber is calling on progressives to join in a common struggle, led by the poor and oppressed, to challenge these three evils. Rev. Barber, therefore, has been traveling across the United States beginning a conversation about and training for a 2018 Poor People’s Campaign. He is calling upon 1,000 people from each of 25 states and the District of Columbia to commit to train for and engage in civil disobedience to bring the triad of evils to the attention of the public. And he emphasizes repeatedly that the campaign is not just about changing attitudes but changing institutions and policies.The optics of the rally at the Saint Gabriel’s Church of God reflected the movement Reverend Barber is building. Attendees were Black and white, young and old, women and men, and religious and secular. As to the latter point Barber cited scripture for the religious and the better parts of the US constitution for the secularists.
Finally, Reverend Barber's speech on August 28 emphasized that there cannot be freedom without equality. There cannot be human rights without access to health care and education. And there cannot be economic justice at home while there is militarism overseas.The twenty-first century Poor People’s Campaign grounds today’s struggles in history; links democracy to economic change; connects social and economic justice; and connects a humane future in the United States to an end to war and the preparation for war. As Barber has written:
The fights for racial and economic equality are as inseparable today as they were half a century ago. Make no mistake about it: We face a crisis in America. The twin forces of white supremacy and unchecked corporate greed have gained newfound power and influence, both in statehouses across this nation and at the highest levels of our federal government. Sixty-four million Americans make less than a living wage, while millions of children and adults continue to live without access to healthcare, even as extremist Republicans in Congress threaten to strip access away from millions more. As our social fabric is stretched thin by widening income inequality, politicians criminalize the poor, fan the flames of racism and xenophobia to divide the poor, and steal from the poor to give tax breaks to our richest neighbors and budget increases to a bloated military(William J. Barber II, “Rev. Barber: America Needs a New Poor People’s Campaign,” thinkprogress, May 15, 2017.