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Moral compass
Moral Monday activist is Newsmaker of Year
 
Published Wednesday, December 18, 2013 2:01 pm
by Herbert L. White

Activism is in the Rev. William Barber’s genes. 

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PHOTO/PAUL WILLIAMS III
The Rev. William Barber, president of the N.C. NAACP, is The Post’s 2013 Newsmaker of the Year. Barber launched the Moral Monday movement, which galvanized progressives and conservative activists against right wing-inspired legislation that rolled back unemployment insurance, voting rights and education funding. Barber, pastor at Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, has been an activist since childhood. “I like to say I didn’t have a choice,” he says.

The leader of Moral Monday – and The Post’s Newsmaker of the Year – was born Aug. 30, 1963, two days after the March on Washington to parents who helped desegregate Indianapolis, Ind.’s public schools. The Barbers moved to North Carolina in 1968 to desegregate Plymouth High School in Washington County. Barber’s father was one of the first black teachers at a white high school; his mother the first black office manager. He was one of the first black students at the local elementary school.

“I like to say I didn’t have a choice,” said Barber, who earned an undergraduate degree in political science at N.C. Central University and master’s in divinity at Duke University, both in Durham. “I fought it, I didn’t necessarily want it, in fact, I didn’t want to be a preacher or pastor because of things I saw or struggled with, but sometimes you get tracked down by things greater than yourself.”

Moral Monday is bigger than Barber, 50, pastor at Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro. The campaign to raise awareness of right-wing political extremism in North Carolina was launched in February by the state NAACP, which Barber has led since 2005. As Moral Monday grew into protests at the General Assembly, so did its appeal to whites, women, the poor and young. Thousands rallied against laws that changed the state’s political landscape, which Barber says is a moral issue at its core. 

“Whether it was the abolition movement, the civil rights movement, the fight for women’s suffrage, the fight for Social Security or the New Deal …historically there’s never been any movement that made a fundamental shifting that did not call on us to move beyond the narrow confines of Democrat versus Republican, liberal versus conservative the more broad values of our deepest moral and constitutional values,” he said.

Conservatives, of course, tend not to be fans of Moral Monday, criticizing the movement as a last-ditch effort by liberals to stop common-sense legislation. N.C. Sen. Thom Goolsby, a Wilmington Republican, derided the campaign as “Moron Monday” and described the “Loony Left” activists as “mostly white, angry, aged former hippies.”

In a June editorial, Goolsby wrote: “The circus came to the State Capitol this week, complete with clowns, a carnival barker and a sideshow. The ‘Reverend’ Barber was decked out like a prelate of the Church of Rome (no insult is meant to Catholics), complete with stole and cassock. All he was missing was a miter and the ensemble would have been complete.”

Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican from Charlotte, also took aim at the protests, calling them “unacceptable” and populated by “outsiders.” He’s said he has no plans to meet with Barber or any other Moral Monday leaders. 

Barber, however, isn’t fazed by criticism. With political roots that extend to the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1984 presidential campaign, he understands the dynamic.

“What we’re seeing now in this extremism is …the natural pushback against progressivism,” he said. “For seven years, we were making major progress. What we’re seeing now is this extremist right-wing agenda that wants to go backward.”

Moral Monday’s infancy was strictly informal, with 17 protesters arrested at the state capitol. But word got around about the activists’ demands and others picked up the banner, spurred by what progressives characterized as attacks on the poor, middle class, women, voting rights and education. By July, rallies of more than 15,000 people were common and more than 900 protesters were arrested through acts of civil disobedience. The protesters crossed racial, political and economic lines to listen to Barber’s thundering oratory and pleas to demand change.

“We didn’t know how it would take off, but we did know that somebody had to make a stand,” Barber said. “We did and they arrested us for singing, praying, chanting and holding signs – seven ministers and 10 other people. The next week, people came and the next week people came.” 

Barber and protesters returned on Mondays throughout the legislative session to focus on an area of conservative extremism – cutting back women’s reproductive rights, slashing unemployment insurance or funding for public schools. Media began to pick up on weekly gatherings – starting with black publications and expanding to national television and big-city daily papers like the New York Times. Moral Mondays expanded across the state, where even ideological conservatives identify with its populist message.

“It’s been phenomenal to see the gatherings from the mountains to the coast,” Barber said. “Even in Mitchell County, which is 99 percent white and 89 percent Republican, I was invited to come up there. People in this state are coming together.”

But will the rallies and speeches change N.C. politics? Progressive advocates acknowledge the challenges posed by conservative lawmakers who dominate both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor’s mansion. Barber, as usual, turns to biblical inspiration.

“We always hold out hope for redemption,” Barber said. “In a moral movement you don’t hate the people you stand up against. You love them enough to tell them they’re wrong and love them enough to hope they come to their moral sense and their constitutional sense. It’s really about what the constitution says.”

“When you go up to Pharaoh, you don’t hope Pharaoh falls,” he adds. “You hope Pharaoh changes.”

 

 

Comments

Excellent choice. A moral leader who deserves all of our support with time and dollars.
North Carolina deserves to continue working at becoming the "New South". This is moving towards government for and by all the people.
" I Am"
Posted on December 18, 2013
 

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