Tag Archives: South

Poor People’s Campaign

Dr. William Barber is the impressive and impassioned clergyman who began the “Moral Monday” movement in North Carolina–a movement that has since spread to other states. I regretted missing his speech when he came to Indiana recently, and was interested to see this article about the lessons of Martin Luther King day in The Nation.

After quoting King’s admonition that we either go up together or go down together, Barber summed up America’s current situation:

King did not live to see another 24 hours of that pivotal year in American history, but 50 years later we face a similar collective crisis as we begin 2018. Extremists who’ve hijacked the Republican Party worked in concert with a charlatan to deconstruct the federal government, but a resistance made itself public in 2017, making clear that we are still the majority in this nation. Congress and many of our state legislatures refuse to represent the will of the majority. In the face of this basic subversion of democracy, we do well to remember that “either we go up together, or we go down together.” King’s assessment is more crucial than ever: Nothing would be more tragic than to turn back now.

Fifty years after Dr. King and many others launched a Poor People’s Campaign to demand a Marshall Plan for America’s poor, inequality in our nation has reached extremes we have not seen since the Gilded Age. As the Dow climbs and the wealthiest Americans get a massive tax break, 15 million more Americans are poor today than in 1968. In the same time period, the rate of extreme poverty has nearly doubled. Because of the systemic racism of voter suppression, which has been implemented in 23 of the nation’s poorest states since 2010, our political system is held captive by extremists who deny workers health care and a living wage, undermine the equal-protection clause of the constitution, attack public education, and encourage poor white people to blame people of color and immigrants for their problems. All the while, more and more of our collective resources are dedicated to a war without end.

Barber writes that a Presidency as flawed and unpopular as Trump’s will not last long, but he acknowledges the immense amount of harm being done in the meantime–especially in the nation’s courts, where lifetime appointments are being made at a pace far exceeding that of preceding administrations.

Barber details the numerous voter suppression tactics of a GOP that “cheats when it can’t win in a fair fight.” And he has nothing but scorn for the white Evangelicals who have traded integrity for power:

So-called “white evangelicals” and their Christian nationalism have become the apologists and enablers of political extremism. Their voices are so loud when joining the course of those who hate gay people, women, and brown and black-skinned immigrants, but so quiet on issues of poverty, systemic racism, ecological devastation, and the war economy. This is a form of modern heresy and theological malpractice, taught all over the country.

He also has a lot to say about the recent tax “reform” bill, the efforts to further erode America’s already inadequate social welfare network, and about the importance of building multi-racial, multi-ethnic coalitions. But his most important message is one that should resonate with all of us: this is no time to quit. It’s no time to stop resisting.

I have dedicated myself to a new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival that is going deep into Southern communities and reclaiming the moral narrative that was bought by the religious right in the 20th century.

In 2018, we are determined to see the South rise again—not in the redemption that white supremacists have long awaited with Confederate flags, but in the future that George White, the last African-American representative to Congress during Reconstruction, foresaw when he said, “This may be the Negro’s farewell to Congress, but Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again.”…

And when we change the South, we will shift the power balance in this nation.

In Alabama, African-American turnout defeated Roy Moore. If anyone can move the South, it’s William Barber, with his eloquence, his passion, his organizing genius –and his repeated insistence that we should never give up.

 

 

 

The War Between the Americans

I recently read an article that traced the roots of Tea Party zealotry all the way back to 1938 and the first signs of the eventual split between Northern and Southern Democrats. The trajectory of intensely racialized politics continued through Nixon’s Southern Strategy and the Reagan realignment, giving us today’s “rigidly homogenous and disproportionately Southern Republican Party.”

That’s a nice way of saying that today’s GOP is a party of Southern white guys, and a lot of them really resent the fact that we have a black President.

My husband and I have friends from the South who still refer to the Civil War as “the war between the States.” I used to think that phrase–and the hostility it conveyed–were remnants of a time past.

Granted, when I went to school in Chapel Hill, NC, in the sixties, there were still separate restrooms and drinking fountains. Just a couple of years ago, a docent at the Rice Museum in Georgetown, SC, told us how unfair it was that slaveowners weren’t compensated for the loss of their “property” via the Emancipation Proclamation. (And before you hit that comment button, anyone who has listened to lame “jokes” at Northern cocktail parties  knows racism isn’t limited to the South.) But America was making progress! These retrograde attitudes were on the wane. Or so I (naively) thought.

And then Barack Obama was elected, and–rather than confirming progress– the boil was lanced, the rocks lifted…pick your metaphor.

Now let me say up front that it is perfectly possible to disagree with this–or any–President about policies and priorities. It is perfectly acceptable to criticize a chief executive, and to do so loudly and vehemently. And there are plenty of Republicans whose disagreements with this President are simply that: disagreements.

But only the willfully blind can deny that there are also frightening numbers of people who are clearly and obviously motivated by racial animus.

These are the people whose “policy disagreements” with Obama emerged before he had policies, and whose “principled” disputes included birther conspiracy theories, allegations that he was/is a Muslim, a Kenyan, a socialist, a Nazi–“policy disputes” that took the form of cartoons portraying him as a monkey, pictures of the White House with watermelons on the lawn,  vile comments posted to news stories, and the behavior of Tea Party crowds like the recent rally at the White House featuring Sarah Palin, a confederate flag, and demands that the President “put down the Q’uaran.”

Joe the Plumber (remember him?), never the brightest bulb in the room, wasn’t exactly subtle last weekend when he posted an article on his blog titled: “America Needs a White Republican President.”

These aren’t policy disputes.

The vitriol has been hard to miss–unless, of course, you prefer not to see it. And there are a lot of otherwise nice people–people who would never burn a cross on someone’s lawn, or make overtly racist remarks–who clearly prefer not to see what is glaringly obvious. (A lawyer of my acquaintance recently professed surprise when someone commented on the outpouring of racism in the wake of Obama’s election, saying he hadn’t noticed anything of the sort. Evidently he doesn’t get the offensive forwarded emails, or read the comments sections of the daily paper, or listen to Rush Limbaugh or his clones.)

I don’t know what we can do about the seething hatred triggered, ironically, by the election of a black President. Historians confirm that racism, Anti-Semitism, homophobia and the like tend to spike during periods of economic uncertainty, and we can hope that as the economy improves, it will subside.

I do know one thing: Edmund Burke was right when he said “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

At the very least, the good people need to speak up. Pretending not to see the ugliness and vitriol just feeds the hatred.

Who’d have thought the Civil War would last so long…..