This post originally appeared at Democracy Now!
Juan González: This weekend, hundreds will gather in Raleigh for the North Carolina NAACP State Convention, the last one that will be presided over by Bishop William Barber as president of the state conference. Rev. Dr. Barber announced he would not run for re-election to his post earlier this year, in order to focus on his work with the Repairers of the Breach and the launch of a Poor People’s Campaign. In what he says is a national call for a moral revival, Barber is on a 15-state public event tour to address issues of systemic racism, poverty, militarism and ecological devastation, and spread North Carolina’s Moral Mondays movement nationwide.
Amy Goodman: The effort draws on the history and unfinished work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967-68 Poor People’s Campaign, which called for America to stand against what King called the “triplets of evil” — systemic racism, poverty and militarism. On Tuesday here in New York, Bishop Barber was presented with the Andrew Goodman Foundation’s Hidden Heroes Award “for courageously defending the moral values of American democracy,” joining us here now in our New York studio.
It’s great to have you here in studio for the first time, Bishop Barber.
Bishop William Barber II: Thank you so much, Amy and Juan. Thank you so much.
Goodman: There is a lot being made in the media right now about Facebook and their Russian ads. You had a very interesting response to that last night about who’s manipulating the elections, who gets to vote and who doesn’t.
Barber: Yeah, I’m very concerned that while we should focus on the Russian hacking, but that we’re missing that the greatest hacking of our system was racialized voter suppression. Let me give you some numbers for your audience.
— Rev. Dr. William Barber II
Eight hundred and sixty-eight. That’s the number of fewer voting sites in the black and brown community in 2016, black, brown and poor community.
Twenty-two. Twenty-two states passed voter suppression laws since 2010. That’s where 44 senators were represented, over nearly 50 percent of the United States House of Representatives. And at least 16 or 17 seats in the Senate — rather, in the House, probably would not be where they are partisan, if it was not for voter suppression.
Today is 1,562 days — 1,562 days since the Supreme Court gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Now, Strom Thurmond only filibustered the Civil Rights Act of ’57 for one day. This Congress, under McConnell and Ryan, has filibustered fixing the Voting Rights Act for 1,562 days. We talk about Trump winning in Wisconsin by 20,000 or 30,000 votes. There were 250,000 votes suppressed in Wisconsin. In North Carolina, we had over 150 fewer sites doing early voting.
So it is amazing to me that we’re having a conversation about Russian hacking, but we’re not having a conversation about racialized voter suppression, which is systemic racism, which is a tool of white nationalism, which is a direct threat to our democracy.
González: And when you say “systemic,” it really has almost become a science, voter suppression. How can you either gerrymander districts, how can you systematically reduce the amount of people voting from those districts that you know are likely to vote against you, all — and without actually talking about race, but actually having the same impact on reducing the vote of the black and Latino community?
Barber: Yeah, it’s very dangerous to only talk about race in terms of interpersonal issues. You know, “Do you have a black friend?” I mean, systemic racism is what has hampered this country. And we’re seeing the worst attacks on voting rights that we’ve seen since Jim Crow. In the state I was in, it took us six years. The state spent $6 million to take people’s voting rights. Now, we won.
— Rev. Dr. William Barber II
Goodman: North Carolina.
Barber: In North Carolina. And the Supreme Court, the Roberts Supreme Court, agreed unanimously twice that the gerrymandering in North Carolina and the voter suppression — not photo ID, but taking away same-day registration, early voting — was systemic voter suppression.
Now, interestingly enough, Amy and Juan, Trump and the two senators from North Carolina are trying to put a guy by the name of Farr— F-A-R-R, Farr — on the federal court. And Farr is the attorney who led the fight for voter suppression and supported Jesse Helms in all of his racial tactics.
So we have to have a very serious conversation about what systemic racism is. We have 34 states now with potentially voter suppression laws. We’re talking about over 54 percent of African-Americans. We’re talking about how it will impact brown people and poor white people. That is the hacking that we must address. And in any other country, we’d be up in arms about that — I mean, you know, even if they were moral arms, not necessarily violent arms — about people literally stealing elections — stealing elections, not winning elections, but stealing elections — through voter suppression. And all of this was systematic in the way in which — part of what helped Trump and Ryan and others get into office.
González: But yet, the president then names a commission—
Barber: A phony — yeah, yeah.
González: —a commission to investigate voter fraud.
Barber: Which is a fraud in and of itself. Which is the same line that they said in North Carolina was the reason they passed these race — intentional racist voter suppression law. They said they were trying to protect citizens from fraud.
And I want to emphasize, the Roberts court, Clarence Thomas, those all voted unanimously to say this was not just disparate treatment, it was intentional, intentional racism and intentional racist gerrymandering. And we have to deal with that, because what they know, without intentional racism and intentional gerrymandering, you could begin to see victories in the South. If you register 30 percent of African-Americans unregistered in the South and connect them with Latinos and connect them with progressive whites, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and possibly South Carolina could flip. If those flip and those change, then the whole body politics shift. So the end of the Southern strategy is right at hand. But we have to deal with systemic voter suppression. And Trump and Ryan and McConnell and those allies are continuing to try to push the issue away from that and focus on the phoniness of fraud.
Goodman: Is it just Republicans?
Barber: Well, I can say that when we started in North Carolina, we had to fight Democrats for — to pass same-day registration and early voting.
But here’s the concern I have. We had 26 presidential election debates on both sides of the political aisle. Not one hour on voter suppression. Not one. Not one hour on, excuse me, restoring the voting rights. And not one hour about systemic racism in all of those debates. I was looking at a report the other day that said — it showed the terrible lack of focus on issues, even with the corporate media. There were more conversations about tweets and innuendos and women and this than there were on the issues.
And that — and systemic racism, as it’s looked at through voter suppression, if you put up a map, every state that has had deep voter suppression also has denied Medicaid expansion, also has denied living wages, also has some of the worst rules in relationship to Latino and immigrant brothers and sisters, also has some of the worst attacks on the LGBT community. So if you know a state is suppressing the vote, you can almost say that state is also against living wages, against — I mean, they have many politicians in power that are against progressive ideas.
Goodman: And how often was poverty raised?
Barber: None. I mean, really, if the Republicans raise it — or, I like to say the extremists that have hijacked the Republican Party — they basically say poverty is the cause of personal failure, and what we really need is tax cuts for the wealthy. Democrats too often say “those trying to make their way into the middle class.” Poverty — nearly 150 million people in poverty, and we don’t have one hour of discussion on poverty? Four hundred families making $97,000 an hour, and we’re locking people up who simply want $15 and a union? That’s a moral travesty.
González: Well, I’m wondering if you could talk about your decision to resign as the head of the North Carolina NAACP to focus more on the Poor People’s — on a new Poor People’s Campaign?
Barber: Yeah. Well, I joined — I was invited to join with Dr. Liz Theoharis, who’s the co-director of Kairos at Union Theological Seminary. And she and I are co-chairing the Poor People’s Campaign. We believe that we need a sustained moral pushback that challenges the immoral public policy direction with a moral vision. I like to call it restoring moral dissent, moral dreams and moral defibrillation of this nation. We’ve to go at the heart. And not just one rally or one email, but a sustained movement. And we need to focus on systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation and the war economy and our whole moral narrative. It is amazing to me that we’re not dealing with these issues — health care, poverty, racism — as moral issues, not Democrat or Republican, not left versus right.
And so, we’ve begun, in a 15-state tour, organizing, because it has to be from the bottom up. It has to be black, white and brown and Native and young and old and gay and straight and people from Appalachia and also people from the urban areas. And that is happening, Juan and Amy. It is happening. And people are engaging. And it has to include nonviolent, but not nonconfrontational, civil disobedience. We’re planning — I won’t say it all this morning, because we’ve got a big announcement, but 25 states, the District of Columbia, people are coming together for a sustained period of time, over 40 days, to change the moral narrative in this country. It must happen. Otherwise, we’ll just, you know, get — have Trumpitis and think if you just move Trump, then it’s over, when there’s not a penny difference between him and many other people who are extremists, or we’ll just continue going down the same talking notes. We’ve got to energize this over 150 — some days people say up between 120, 150 poor and working poor people, and show them the intersectionality of what they face.
And lastly, Juan, it’s got to be rooted in indigenous leadership. It’s got to be sustained. It’s got to be where we energize everybody. And we have to make sure that we understand we’re talking about the very soul and the heart of this nation. If we don’t deal with systemic racism and systemic poverty, ecological devastation and the war economy, we’re not going to be dealing with violence. I know right now we’re talking about violence, gun violence. And we should be. And it shouldn’t be politicized. It should be a moral issue. But 250,000 people die every year from poverty. For every 500,000 people denied Medicaid expansion, 2,500 to 2,800 people die. People are dying from immoral, violent public policy.