Archives

Commentary

Winsotn-Salem teach-inThe demonstration against the North Carolina legislature’s voter suppression law, organized by the NAACP and Moral Monday movement last Monday in Winston-Salem, was a stirring reminder that, fifty years after the Voting Rights Act, civil rights cannot be taken for granted in this country. But the organizers of the day’s event also called attention to another disturbing trend, one that is closely connected to civil rights: the war on poor people, particularly those who find themselves in the most precarious jobs of our economy’s service sector.

A teach-in on economic justice, facilitated by the NAACP, was held on Monday afternoon at Goler Memorial AME Zion Church. Ben Wilkins of Raise Up for 15 launched the discussion by emphasizing that voter suppression laws are aimed not only at minorities, but at poor people.

To emphasize this point, Wilkins quoted Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech of March 25, 1965, in which Dr. King observed that “segregation of the races was really a political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests in the South to keep the southern masses divided and southern labor the cheapest in the land…[T]he southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. … And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man.” Read More

Commentary

You can always tell when North Carolina NAACP President and Moral Mondays movement leader Rev. William Barber is having an impact with his fearless and tireless advocacy. It’s always the moment at which paid political hacks on the far right start manufacturing scurrilous personal attacks full of unflattering photos, baseless claims about money and thinly-veiled overtures to their rebel flag-loving supporters.

The latest of these below-the-belt attacks emerged like a virtual stink bomb in recent days as advocates for voting rights advanced their arguments in opposition to the Monster Voter Suppression law that’s now on trial in a federal court in Winston-Salem. The attacks came in the form of some utterly and laughably bogus allegations about “big union money” supposedly underwriting some of Barber’s efforts. The following excerpt from a story on Raleigh’s WTVD is typical:

“Reverend Barber pocketed over $20,000 from the national labor unions to give paid speeches,” alleged N.C. GOP Chairman Hasan Harnett.

Setting aside the absurdity of a man like Mr. Harnett — a self-described, professional “Keynote Speaker. Author. Serial Entrepreneur. Success Mastery Leader” (whatever the hell that is) — attacking Rev. Barber for raising a few thousand bucks for his shoestring movement from some allied organizations, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at the whole embarrassing episode.

Two years ago, in response to the equally absurd and offensive claims of the Pope-Civitas Institute that Moral Mondays protesters were driven by their desire to rake in boatloads of government cash, I wrote this in a story on the main NC Policy Watch site:

“On the one hand, [the attacks] are just so downright (and comically) crude and ham-fisted that you almost have to cringe in embarrassment for the Pope-Civitas people. Seriously, the notion that giant organizations with proud histories like the NAACP, AARP and the YWCA are protesting the myriad regressive actions of the 2013 General Assembly because some branch happens to administer a few thousand dollars in public funds is just so patently absurd that it’s hard to believe that a supposedly serious group – a group nervy enough to describe itself as “North Carolina’s Conservative Voice” – would stoop to allege it.

Similarly, to imply that Rev. William Barber – a courageous man who works night and day at enormous personal sacrifice, physical pain and even personal risk; a man who directs a tiny paid staff and who has, for years, tirelessly traveled the length and breadth if the state in an old minivan to help countless underdog causes – is doing what he is doing in order to advance his own personal financial agenda, is just so utterly wrong and, for lack of a better word, malicious that it must render any fair-minded observer virtually speechless.”

These words are true and apt today as well.

The bottom line: There are plenty of substantive debates to have on the issues championed by the Moral Mondays movement. Let’s hope the sad and uninformed mouthpieces spreading lies and innuendo about Rev. Barber finally come this realization in the near future and abandon their slanderous and pathetic efforts.

Commentary

“The perpetrator has been arrested, but the killer is still at large.” That’s Rev. William Barber’s insightful take in the aftermath of the Charleston tragedy.

Barber, the President of the North Carolina NAACP, spoke those words today during an interview with Amy Goodman of the Democracy Now! News Hour. As Barber went on to note:

“Reverend Pinckney, as a colleague in ministry, was not just opposed to the flag, he was opposed to the denial of Medicaid expansion, where now the majority of the state is opposing Medicaid expansion where six out of 10 black people live. He was opposed to voter suppression, voter ID in South Carolina. He was opposed to those who have celebrated the ending of the Voting Rights Act, or the gutting of Section 4, which means South Carolina is no longer a preclearance state, and the very district that he served in is vulnerable right now. He was opposed to the lack of funding for public education. He wanted to see living wages raised.

So I would say to my colleagues, let’s take down the flag—to the governor—but also, let’s put together an omnibus bill in the name of the nine martyrs. And all of the things Reverend Pinckney was standing for, if we say we love him and his colleagues, let’s put all of those things in a one big omnibus bill and pass that and bring it to the funeral on Friday or Saturday, saying we will expand Medicaid to help not only black people, but poor white Southerners in South Carolina, because it’s not just the flag.”

You can watch the entire Democracy Now! segment below:

 

Commentary

The Moral Mondays-Forward Together movement returns to Raleigh today to to blow a little fresh air onto the increasingly wacky goings on in the Legislative Building. In case you missed it, this is “Crossover Week”at the General Assembly and, unfortunately, the deadline has helped give rise to a spasm of new, far right proposals on everything from the death penalty to the spread of guns to, we’re not making this up, teaching K-12 students the wonders of “a strong national defense” and the gold standard.

Click here for the details on this afternoon’s protest. And here’s Rev. William Barber, leader of the state NAACP on what this afternoon’s protests are all about:

YouTube Preview Image
Commentary

Rev. William Barber and North Carolina Christian writer Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove recently authored the following essay on the close connection between modern “religious freedom” proposals and the dark history of racial discrimination in the U.S.  We’re delighted to publish it here.

Extremists also remember Selma:
The ugly history behind “religious freedom” laws

By Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

From Ava Duvernay’s award-winning film to President Obama’s speech at the Edmond Pettus Bridge, to the thousands we crossed the Bridge with and the millions that joined by TV, America has remembered Selma this year. We have honored grassroots leaders who organized for years, acknowledged the sacrifices of civil rights workers, and celebrated the great achievement of the Voting Rights Act. At the same time, we have recalled the hatred and fear of white supremacy in 1960’s Alabama. But we may not have looked closely enough at this ugly history. Even as we celebrate one of America’s great strides toward freedom, the ugliest ghosts of our past haunt us in today’s “religious freedom” laws.

Many able commentators have pointed out the problem with laws which purport to protect a First Amendment right to religious freedom by creating an opportunity to violate another’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. But little attention has been paid to the struggle out of which the 14th Amendment was born—a struggle which continued to play out in Selma 50 years ago and is very much alive in America’s state houses today. We cannot understand the new “religious freedom” law in Indiana and others like it apart from the highly sexualized backlash against America’s first two Reconstructions.

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was part and parcel of America’s first Reconstruction, guaranteeing for the first time that people who had been legally codified as three-fifths persons would enjoy equal protection under the law in this country. The very notion of equal protection for black Americans was so offensive that it inspired an immediate backlash. Two features of resistance to America’s first Reconstruction are essential to note.

First, it was deeply religious. White preachers led the charge, calling themselves “Redeemers” and framing equal justice for black Americans as a moral danger. At the same time, the threat was explicitly sexualized. Black men were portrayed in respectable newspapers as “ravishing beasts,” eager to rape white women.

Here in our native North Carolina, white vigilantes were armed and encouraged to defend their women, leading to the “Wilmington Race Riot” of 1898. Violent demonstrations of white men’s sexual fear led to lynchings throughout the South and Midwest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Ida B. Wells, the courageous African-American journalist from Memphis, did the dangerous investigative work to show that the great majority of these lynchings were not about sex but political power.

When the Civil Rights Movement—a Second Reconstruction—was finally able to draw national attention to the vicious patterns of Jim Crow in the 1960’s, the challenge to white power was again conflated with sexual fear. As Danielle McGuire has chronicled in her book “The Dark End of the Street,” civil rights workers were consistently accused of wanting interracial sex and/or having homosexual tendencies.  Read More