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This Weekend's March in North Carolina May Be the Start of Something Huge

Protesters marched for every issue progressives care about, and they spoke in a clear, unified voice.

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Rev. Barber says he learned at seminary that hope is an essential part of Christian theology, tied directly to helping people. "When you stand for justice and help folks, you’re at the same time, giving them hope. That’s why because Jesus helped us at Calvary, the writer said my hope is built when the Lord helped us."

But building this mass movement also took political smarts. And HKonJ has done a lot more politically, especially at the North Carolina state house. They played an important role in passage of a Racial Justice Act, obtaining Same Day Voting; winning workers the right to unionize; getting a former Democratic governor to veto Voter I.D. Laws, an unfair budget, and repeal of a Racial Justice Act.

In 2013, as a Republican governor and legislature moved their state ever further rightward, Barber and his allies stepped up the action. They began weekly sit-ins at the state capitol on "Moral Mondays," which eventually saw just short of a thousand people arrested.

"Clergy were especially prominent" in those actions, the Washington Post reported. Local Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and United Methodist leaders issued a joint statement supporting the action: “It is a matter of faith with respect to our understanding of the biblical teachings and imperatives to protect the poor, respect the stranger, care for widows and children and love our neighbors (Isaiah 10:1‐2, Hebrews 13:2, James 1:27, Matthew 22:39, Galatians 5:14).”

They were moved not just by anger but by the hope of repentance, Rev. Barber says. "That’s part of what it means to be a person of faith: You believe that people can be moved in deep places and change. So you put a cross before them, you put yourself, your body. You’re willing to sacrifice in hopes that somebody will say, 'Wait a minute,' and change their ways. The non-violent and the people of deep faith always transform history. And we’ll do it again."

This politically savvy preacher has very concrete plans to make sure we do it again. He sees the movement he leads as a model for resistance across the country: “We must reduce fear through public education, through the streets, through the courts and through the electoral campaigns." 

"If you are going to change America you have to think states," he says. “We believe North Carolina is the crucible. If you’re going to change the country, you’ve got to change the South. If you’re going to change the South, you’ve got to focus on these state capitols.” Spin-offs of the Moral Monday movement are already starting up in Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

And you've got to change state politics at the county level, Barber advises. So he and his group are launching "North Carolina Moral Freedom Summer," a statewide registration and mobilization effort for voters in all 100 counties of North Carolina.

But that's just part of a larger program that also includes voter education, a social media strategy, and a legal strategy. "Many of these things, not just the voting rules, are going to be challenged in the courts using our state and federal constitutions," Barber promises. That's a lot of smart strategic thinking.

As far as he is concerned, though, there's no way to separate smart politics from devout faith. He takes his inspiration equally from the Constitution, where he finds deep values to promote "the common good," and from the Bible, which he sees teaching that love and justice should be at the center of public policy. "Isaiah 10 says, 'Woe unto those who make unjust laws that rob the right of the poor.' And we said, wait a minute, when you look at these policies, it’s not only bad policy, but it’s immoral and extreme."

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