William Barber’s prophetic voice demands voting rights and justice for all
Reverend William Barber, the president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pa. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)
By Stacy M. Brown (NNPA News Wire Contributor)
The headlines blared almost non-stop.
“Rev. William Barber Rattles the Windows, Shakes the DNC Walls,” NBC News said.
“The Rev. William Barber dropped the mic,” The Washington Post marveled.
And, “Americans who’d never heard of Rev. William Barber II won’t be able to forget him after last night,” said Ari Berman of the political website “The Nation.”
Even celebrities were awed.
“I’m an atheist and I’d go to Rev. William Barber’s church in a second,” King of Queens actor Patton Oswalt said. “Just to get levitated by his voice.”
Barber hasn’t always held the national spotlight, but he’s never sought it out, either.
As the president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, Barber has worked in the trenches to deliver strong messages that oppose hate, violence and oppression.
“We have always insisted that some issues are not left versus right, but right versus wrong. Racism is not a liberal or conservative issue,” Barber said. “Subverting democracy is not partisan. It is immoral. It’s just plain wrong.”
According to Barber, N.C.’s voter suppression law that passed in the wake of the infamous 2013 Supreme Court Shelby County v. Holder decision, was a major culprit in subverting democracy in poor and Black communities.
Earlier this summer, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Barber and the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and other groups that had filed suit on the day Governor Pat McCrory signed the law.
“The decision exposed the racist intent of the extremist element of our government in North Carolina,” Barber said. “Just think of what that meant. It would have an effect on all the southern states and it would tip the scales in the election.”
Based on the ruling, North Carolina voters will not have to show a voter ID in the state in November or in any future election, Barber said.
“North Carolinians will enjoy the full scope of early voting opportunities previously available, and will not be denied needed safeguards to protect the ability to exercise the right to vote including the option of same day registration,” he said.
Barber continued: “We know that this decision is a step closer to a freer, fairer electoral system in our state and in the nation. It is our duty to continue this fight until barriers based on race are swept away as ancient history. This is not a photo ID bill, this court ruled on the most sweeping, retrogressive voter suppression bill that we have seen since the 19th century and since Jim Crow and the worst in the nation since the Shel-by decision.”
Going forward, the fight must continue, he said.
And, that’s just one reason why he accepted an invitation to speak at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in July.
“We were in Cleveland delivering to all the presidential candidates, state governors and senators, our higher ground moral declaration,” Barber said, noting that one year before his assassination, King had called for a time to break the silence about the injustices in society.
The late civil rights icon had proclaimed that silence was betrayal and the truth must be told.
“We declare that if silence was betrayal then a revival is necessary today,” Barber said. “So, we went to Cleveland, to the RNC, and they actually called the cops on us while we were praying.”
The Democrats had a different view and invited Barber to speak during the DNC in Philadelphia.
At first, Barber did not accept the offer, choosing instead to consult with his peers and to pray, he said.
“It’s not about endorsing a candidate. I am not so much interested in left vs. right, Democrat vs. Republican, but how public policy lines up, in terms of what I like to say being constitutionally consistent, morally defensible and economically just, and economically sane,” Barber said.
He warned that there’s one presidential candidate [Trump] who might be using coded language to provoke race-baiting.
“At the convention, he kept saying ‘I’ and ‘I alone’ would do this and would do that,” Barber said. “That’s political idolatry. Even the Constitution says ‘We.’”
“In this country, when you can actually run for office and your agenda can sound like this: ‘If you elect me, I’m going to take your healthcare even though, by getting elected, I get free healthcare. I’m going to deny you a living wage; I’m going to attack you if you’re an LGBTQ person.
‘In a country where we’ve seen God shed his grace on you, I’m not going to have grace for the immigrant community, I’m going to deny racism in criminal justice, I’m going to suppress the right to vote. I’m going to castigate religion, in a country that has no religious test, and then after I do all that, I’m going to make sure you can get a gun quicker than you can vote.’ That represents a hardening of our heart of our democracy. It is a moral problem, not just a left-right problem,” Barber said.
And, at the DNC, Barber’s message resonated like that of King’s.
“When we develop tax and trade policies that no longer funnel our prosperity to the wealthy few, we are reviving the heart of our democracy,” Barber said.
“When we hear the legitimate discontent of Black Lives Matter and we come together to renew justice in our criminal justice system, we are embracing our deepest moral values and reviving the heart of our democracy,” he said.
“When we love the Jewish child and the Palestinian child, the Muslim and the Christian and the Hindu and the Buddhist, and those who have no faith but they love this nation, we are reviving the heart of our democracy. When we fight for peace, and when we resist the proliferation of military-style weapons on our streets, and when we stand against the anti-democratic stronghold of the NRA, we are reviving the heart of our democracy.”
Dr. Benjamin Chavis, the president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and himself an accomplished civil rights leader, praised Barber for his work in North Carolina and his landmark speech at the DNC.
Chavis also pledged to work closely with Barber in getting African-Americans to the polls.
“The NNPA salutes the prophetic voice and leadership of the Rev. Dr. William Barber,” Chavis said. “We are in another propitious moment in history when the mass mobilization of 30 million or more Black votes in the upcoming national elections will be the single most determinative factor in who will be the next president of the United States.”
Chavis continued: “We will work with Dr. Barber, the NAACP and all others to turn out the Black vote in record numbers in November.”