Rev. William Barber addresses the crowd. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Min Kantrowitz

A Moral Revival: Civil Rights Leader Rev. William Barber Speaks in Albuquerque

by Diane Joy Schmidt

In reality, storytelling is not make-believe. There is a real function to storytelling. A fundamental need in humans, a neurological function, it assists in integration and individuation, to give our lives meaning.

In stories, the main character changes. Usually that means growing from a selfish, childish, cowardly outlook to one that shows a courageous willingness to live for something greater than oneself. Many of us strive to emulate that model. The new Wonder Woman action-hero movie stresses the values of sacrifice, honor and duty, while condemning the horrors of war. We are hard-wired for story. It doesn’t mean that there is necessarily a happy ending.

For the most part, the films and TV shows we see have a happy ending. An injustice is identified and vanquished. And we have become conditioned to expect a fairy-tale ending — when in fact, real fairy tales were much more complex.

When the natural, hard-wired story is subverted to sell us something false and morally hollow, our souls are also corrupted. What do we end up with? Bitterly disappointed, desperate adult children—who will believe anyone who says they can deliver the fairy-tale ending they crave. Simple answers with easy scapegoats for profoundly complex questions.

But the masks are coming off. Behind them are the oldest of American tragedies – racism and hatred. Demons we hoped were long gone have reappeared with frightening ease, with such ease that it is clear they never really left us.

A View from the balcony of the United Methodist Church in Albuquerque on August 15. Photo by @ConejosWater, from the Poor People’s Campaign Twitter feed.
A View from the balcony of the United Methodist Church in Albuquerque on August 15. Photo by @ConejosWater, from the Poor People’s Campaign Twitter feed.

After heading the North Carolina state chapter of the NAACP, the Reverend William J. Barber has taken up the mantle of leading a revitalized civil rights movement calling for a moral revival. Following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King’s last efforts, the new Poor People’s Campaign advocates for social, economic and environmental justice. With Albuquerque as the second stop of a sweep through 25 states, Reverend William Barber spoke at the United Methodist Church on Tuesday night, August 15. His oratory skills transfixed the large crowd.

Arriving just after the horrific weekend in Charlottesville, when armed white nationalists and neo-Nazis wreaked havoc, the church was standing room only. Rev. Barber strived to bring home the message that leaders “must condemn not just what happened Saturday in Charlottesville, but they must condemn the policies and the articulations of the policies that precipitated what happened.” He went on to exhort politicians, “Do you condemn reversing voting rights; do you condemn attacks on immigrants — because that’s white nationalism; do you support restoring the Voting Rights Act, that they undermined?”

In remarks that were also published in his August 15 blog at the Repairers of the Breach’s website, (breachrepairers.org) Rev. Barber offered a historical perspective: “White supremacy is not now nor has it ever been a strictly Southern sin. The statue of Robert E. Lee for which extremists in Charlottesville were willing to kill was installed during the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat from New Jersey, after he played “Birth of a Nation” in the White House.

“One hundred years before Donald Trump and the Republican Party courted white nationalists, Wilson used this nation’s bully pulpit to uplift the narrative of white nationalism. Racism is not a partisan or regional issue in America. It is our nation’s original sin.”

Rev. Barber then went on to advocate for what he terms a broad societal redemption and has championed the idea of a Third Reconstruction, as the work to repair the nation after the Civil War and Civil Rights Movement is not yet complete. He said: “Still, we know that another way is possible. Following this nation’s Civil War, during Reconstruction, and again during the Second Reconstruction of the 1950s and 60s, moral leaders came together from both sides of the aisle to repent of this nation’s sins and turn toward rebuilding a nation for all.

“Every effort for reconstruction in America has required a movement of people coming together across the diving lines of race, class, and party to engage our deepest moral traditions and imagine new possibilities. Now is the time for a Third Reconstruction in America. We who believe in freedom insist that we are going forward together, not one step back.”

Those I spoke to afterwards were uplifted by Rev. Barber’s words. Rabbi Min Kantrowitz of Albuquerque said, “It was exciting to see between 600-700 people there to see Rev. Barber. The crowd, overflowing into the parking lot, was excited, hopeful and determined. His explanations of the history of the Confederate statues was useful and interesting: they were erected between 1889 and 1922, during the Jim Crow era, to celebrate (his words) the ‘deconstruction of Reconstruction,’ not the end of the Civil War.

“The crowd was among the most diverse I’d seen in Albuquerque! As a clergyperson, I am heartened to see the concept of moral action in the world connected with the present day political situation.”

The meaning of democracy is on the line as never before. Voter disenfranchisement, gerrymandering, the deliberate underfunding of the coming 2020 Census, and the social media digital environment where political operatives can profile, target, manipulate and promise different things to different voters all mean we must have a renewed commitment to and creative approaches to social and economic justice.

Fortunately leaders like Rev. Barber and others are stepping forward, to continue the good fight, to reassure us that the struggle to make this world a better place will never stop. They help us still have faith that despite all the villains cloaked in khaki pants and polo shirts, carrying tiki torches and waving Confederate flags, the forces of justice will prevail again one day soon.

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