A conversation with the man behind “Moral Mondays”


In the msnbc original series ”Generation to Generation,” we take a side-by-side look at the work of civil rights leaders from the ’60s and their modern-day counterparts. We’re thrilled to announce that several of the leaders featured in the series have agreed answer questions directly from the msnbc.com community.

To kick off the series Rev. Dr. William Barber, who spearheaded the “Moral Mondays” protests against North Carolina’s restrictive voting laws, responded to your questions. Below, Rev. Barber explains his voting rights activism and how to get involved in the movement. 

UP, 7/12/14, 8:36 AM ET

A lot to worry about for voting rights

Jonathan Capehart, Rev. William Barber, Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe, and MSNBC’s Joy Reid discuss the court challenge of voting restrictions in North Carolina and other sections of the country.
Emily Samsel: Do you think there is a good chance an injunction will be issued that will delay the NC voting law until after this November’s elections? If an injunction is not issued, what will you and the organizations you work with do in the months leading up to election day to ensure that all North Carolinians are informed about what exactly they need to bring and where they need to go to vote? Will you refocus your efforts on voter education during this time?

Dr. Barber: The Forward Together Moral Movement doesn’t have to refocus its efforts. We always wage our campaign on four sides: we fight in the streets, we fight in the legislative halls, we fight in the courtroom and we fight at ballot box. Our Movement has always had more than one arm operating at the same time. Win or lose in court, we will march to the beat of our different drummer, a justice who sees all and knows all. Already, we are embarking on the Moral March to the polls, an aggressive voter registration, education and mobilization campaign, following the lead of our young people who are building power at the grassroots across the state with the Moral Freedom Summer Program. As fall approaches, our voter registration efforts will accelerate and our Moral Monday gatherings across the state will swell.

sclassit: What is it like leading a progressive multiracial coalition in a Southern state? Does it feel like the future of North Carolina? It seems like almost everyone you’re up against are aging white Republicans (no offense to my grandmother, whom I love):

Rev. Barber: Today, we are battling those who want to relive the past and use modern day forms of the divide and conquer strategy. But we have come together. We are black, white, Latino, and Native American. We are democrat, republican, and independent. We are people of all faiths, and, not of faith, but who believe in a moral universe. We are natives and immigrants, business leaders and workers and unemployed, doctors and the uninsured, gay and straight, students and parents and retirees. The greatest myth of our times is that extreme policies only hurt a small subset of people, such as people of color. These policies harm us all. And so I’ve even seen some aging white Republicans – in fact the older they are, the better they are – join our Forward Together Movement.

We know how much is at stake. We know we are in a good position to help repair the breach in God’s human family, so that we can all eat supper together, we can all stand together and we can all move forward together - not one step back. This is an indigenous-led, state-based, state-government focused, deeply moral, deeply constitutional, anti-racist, anti-poverty, pro-justice, pro-labor, transformative, fusion movement. It feels like a Third Reconstruction.

Susan Steele: What coalitions are you aware of in Michigan, specifically in the Metro Detroit area that one can join and get the ball rolling. Any ideas?

Dr. Barber: Education is a critical issue. The first major victory of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s was Brown v. Board of Education. It was a major reset in American politics. Those who fight public education are attempting to undermine the very soul and heartbeat of our democracy. Public schools bind all of us together in defense of our children and our futures.

Now I am sure you know Michigan better than I do. But I can say one or two general things. It should be a statewide movement. It should bring together all the forward-looking organizations in Michigan. Don’t forget the churches. The leadership must be homegrown; no one can import the movement to Michigan. And it should resonate with Michigan’s own most deeply held values and highest political and cultural traditions. 

This Forward Together fusion coalition has been more than eight years in the making and now encompasses more than 200 partner organizations across the state. Likewise, this Michigan movement should have room in it for everybody. Have you contacted the Michigan and the Detroit NAACP leaders?

Below are 12 steps that we recommend for anyone looking to use the Moral Monday frame in their own communities:

  1. Engage in indigenously-led grassroots organizing across the state;
  2. Use moral language to frame and critique public policy through our deepest moral and constitutional values - regardless of who is in power;
  3. Demonstrate a commitment to civil disobedience that follows the steps of the movement and that is designed to change the public conversation and consciousness;
  4. Build a stage from which to lift the voices of everyday people impacted by immoral, extremist policies - not a stage for partisan politics;
  5. Build a coalition of moral and religious leaders of all faiths;
  6. Intentionally diversify the movement with the goal of winning unlikely allies;
  7. Build transformative, long-term coalition relationships rooted in a clear agenda that doesn’t measure success just by electoral outcomes and that destroys the myth of extremism;
  8. Make a serious commitment to academic and empirical analysis of policy (activist scholars);
  9. Utilize social media coordination in all forms: video, text, Twitter, Facebook, etc.;
  10. Engage in voter registration and education;
  11. Pursue a strong legal strategy; and
  12. Resist the “One Moment Mentality” – We are building a movement!

Mark Williams: How can we get voter turnout in these midterm elections up to the level of a presidential election year? How can we overcome the tendency of “Obama coalition” voters to sit out non-presidential elections?

Dr. Barber: The same way we did during presidential years – hard work. In 2008 and 2012, there was a national focus on getting everyone in the new electorate, the Forward Together Moral electorate to vote. Now the same energy, spirit and commitment must be mustered again. It must come from us. Our young people in North Carolina are leading the way with an exciting Moral Freedom Summer door-to-door campaign. How many people do you know that may have voted in 2012, but need a little extra push to get them out to the polls in November? Call a house meeting. Talk to people at work, in your church. We can all do a little more. We can alter the course of history if we shed our depression and our cynicism and then march to higher ground together. 

In the Movement, we don’t judge our work by the polls, but the overwhelming tide of public opinion shows that North Carolina does not agree with the regressive path that we are on – which increases the likelihood that people will not consider this an “off-election” but will turn out and turn up at the polls in November. Raising awareness is a pivotal part of the fight against this extremism.

Stay in touch with Rev. Barber on Twitter: @RevDrBarber.

Learn more about “Moral Mondays”:

Civil Rights

A conversation with the man behind "Moral Mondays"