William Barber: The Face of the Poor People’s Campaign

Reverend Dr. William Barber

Poor People’s Campaign A National Call for the Revival of Morality

On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was shot on a balcony outside of his hotel room during the first Poor People’s Campaign. Fifty years later, hundreds of people gathered at the Lorraine Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum to speak on today’s civil rights challenges. Despite the hope and confidence that the speakers echoed, all touched upon the inevitable “we still have so far to go.”

One of the final speakers of the day, Reverend Dr. William Barber, a pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro North Carolina, changed the precedent of the event.

Instead of addressing the many obvious victories of King, he spoke of his many burdens.

“The weight of these years, by the time he got to Memphis, to stand with black men who were organizing a garbage strike, were heavy,” Barber said. “By the time he got to Memphis, he had racists, moderates, politicians, a President, and even jealous criticism from black leaders, who used his position against the Vietnam War as an excuse to diminish his status in the eyes of liberal white America, while raising their own. And then the bullet rang. And his body fell.”

Towards the end of his life, King not only confronted the issues of racism, but undertook the challenges of militarism and poverty as well. As a result, Barber called on the crowd to continue this unfinished work of King.

Barber himself has continued the work of King by reviving the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, a radical effort started by King. In 1968, this campaign called for full employment, guaranteed basic income, access to capital for small and minority businesses. It called on citizens across the nation to meet in Washington D.C. where they would occupy tents on the National Mall for six weeks.

Now, the movement is titled the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. The demands include:

  • federal and state livable wage laws,
  • equality and equity in education,
  • end to mass incarceration,
  • protected voter’s rights, and
  • a singer-payer health care system.

This year’s campaign began on Mother’s Day and will continue until Saturday, June 23, 2018, when thousands of people in 40+ states will protest against harmful policies that have hurt our nation’s poor.

Some may argue that a national alliance of poor people is a radical idea, especially in the era of Donald Trump. However, if there is anyone up to the challenge, it is Reverend Dr. Barber.

Barber’s first activist work was extremely early in his life, when he enrolled in an elementary school conducting a school-integration project. From then on, Barber engaged in many civil rights efforts, also being elected president of the local N.A.A.C.P. Youth Council at just fifteen. After graduating from North Carolina Central University, Barber later re-enrolled in Duke to study divinity.

On Monday, April 29, 2013, Barber led about 75 protestors to the state legislature in order to challenge their attempt to persecute minorities and the disadvantaged. They interrupted the legislature’s proceedings, halting their deliberation, and marking the very first Moral Monday. These demonstrations continued for four years, marking the revival of the new campaign.

Barber is believed to have become a publicly recognized figure in the summer of 2016, when he spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. He spoke on how he wished for Americans to use faith not to serve hate, disenfranchisement, and abuse of authority, but to reclaim the notion of morality.

According to the New Yorker, “ He concluded with an extended riff on the heartlessness of Republican policies and those who would “harden the heart” of American democracy, and called on the assembled Democrats to be “the moral defibrillators of our time,” a phrase that brought them to their feet. “We must shock this nation with the power of love, we must shock this nation with the power of mercy,” he said. “We can’t give up on the heart of our democracy, not now, not ever!””

If you are interested in supporting Barber’s fight to help the poor and maintain democracy, register for the 2018 Congressional Reception so you can impact your elected officials.

On July 25th, a Congressional Reception will be held at the Dirksen Senate Auditorium in Washington D.C. This event will allow New Jersey Residents who are working poor, below the poverty line and or impacted by homelessness to urge their elected officials in Washington to make No Cuts to Housing and remind them that Opportunity Starts at Home.

Click here for more information about the Congressional Reception. You can also follow @OppStartsatHome in order to learn more about the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Opportunity Starts at Home Campaign. Follow the event with these hashtags #NJHillDay #NoHousingCuts and @OppStartsatHome.

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