Democracy Awakening: Mass Civil Disobedience Underway at Capitol Hill
More than 900 people have been arrested over the past week on Capitol Hill in a series of unprecedented protests against the influence of big money and corporate lobbying in politics. More civil disobedience is scheduled for today. The arrests began last Monday during an event organized as part of a wave of actions dubbed Democracy Spring. Another protest began on Saturday under the banner of Democracy Awakening. We speak to one of the key organizers of Democracy Awakening, the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in our 100-city tour, headed to Salt Lake City tonight and then on to Colorado. But right now in Washington, more than 900 people have been arrested over the past week on Capitol Hill in a series of unprecedented protests against the influence of big money and corporate lobbying in politics. More civil disobedience is scheduled for today. The arrests began last Monday during an event organized as part of a wave of actions dubbed Democracy Spring. Another protest began Saturday under the banner Democracy Awakening. One of the key organizers of Democracy Awakening is Reverend William Barber, president of North Carolina chapter of the NAACP.
REV. WILLIAM BARBER: I come from the South, from North Carolina, where we have seen, since Shelby, the worst coordinated attack in this country. At the very time that African Americans are voting at 70 percent and we’re building fusion with progressive whites and Latinos, we’ve seen an extremist governor and Legislature vote to put in place apartheid voting districts. We’ve seen them shorten the early voting period by a full week, because 70 percent of those that use the first week are African-American. We’ve seen them eliminate same-day registration, because 43 percent of those that use same-day registration are African-American. And we’ve seen them pass a strict form of photo ID that negatively impacts 300,000 voters. This is—this is a racial and class attack on our democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Reverend William Barber speaking in Washington Sunday at an event organized by Democracy Awakening. He’s planning to risk arrest during an act of mass civil disobedience today on Capitol Hill, but he’s first joining us from a studio in Washington, D.C.
Reverend Barber, welcome back to Democracy Now! Explain why you’ve come to the nation’s capital.
REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, first of all, I thank you so much. You know, the NAACP, along with the Democracy Initiative and 200 other organizations, have called for this Democracy Awakening, today the Congress of Conscience. And I’m here today, really, not only as a NAACP president, but as the pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church and the president of Repairers of the Breach, because I believe these are deeply, deeply moral issues. And when you look at the fact that this Congress, that we have now, in its current extreme leadership, has—for over 1,027 days, has refused to do what the 15th Amendment requires the Congress to do, and that is to fix the Voting Rights Act. For over 1,027 days, they have refused to reinstate Section 5. That act has allowed states like North Carolina and others to engage in the worst attacks on voting rights and voter suppression that we’ve seen since the 19th century, because preclearance has been basically nullified. We see the extreme amounts of money—$10 billion expected to be spent in this election alone—and the fact that they’ve refused to even hear, do the hearings on the Supreme Court nominee of President Obama.
Democracy Awakening and this initiative says that this is not the awakening. The awakening is already happening in the country, whether you look at the immigration rights movement; Moral Mondays, where more than a thousand people were arrested, as well—80,000 people showed up on one occasion; Black Lives Matter; fights for—to deal with environmental justice, women’s rights, the LGBTQ rights. What this is signaling, though, is kind of a coming together and recognizing. And I believe, Amy, that we are right in the adolescent stage of a third reconstruction, and where people are saying it’s not about Democrat and Republican or liberal versus conservative, but about how do we address the extremism that’s constitutionally inconsistent, morally indefensible and economically insane. And the fact that we have less voting rights today, and the attorney general has less power to enforce voting rights today, than we had in August 6, 1965, when Voting Rights Act was passed, is a travesty, and the fact that neither party, Democrat or Republican, in 17—or, 16 or 17 debates have focused on that issue, have staked themselves out on where they are on the restoration of the Voting Rights Act, and specifically the fifth—the fifth part of it, that allows for preclearance.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Reverend Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, who has been participating in the Democracy Awakening mobilizations. I wanted to turn right now to a woman named Alberta Currie, and others like her in North Carolina, lead plaintiff in the Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s legal challenge to North Carolina’s new voter ID law. She has voted in every election since 1956, but she was unable to get the photo ID required by the new law to vote last month in the North Carolina primaries. She only has an expired driving license from Virginia, because she no longer drives. She also doesn’t have a birth certificate, as she was born at home to a midwife in the segregated South. She’s speaking here to the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
ALBERTA CURRIE: The way I see this, they keep us from having a right to vote and keep us from putting the right person in the election. That’s a step backwards. Well, the last time we voted, they told us, "Don’t come back." They told me special not to come back, because I didn’t have no right to vote. I will need an ID.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Alberta Currie. Reverend Barber, how does this work?
REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, it’s deeply—it’s deeply troubling. You know, we have another plaintiff, as well, Rosanell Eaton, who’s over 90 years old, who had to actually recite the preamble to the Constitution, as somebody who couldn’t read, who helped register 5,000 people to vote over her 90 years. And she also was impacted by this law.
And the lady makes two great points. Number one, the voter ID is bad enough. But people need to understand that when Shelby happened after June 25th, 2013, one of our legislators said, "Now that the headache has been removed," because preclearance was no longer a part of the law. They didn’t not just do voter ID. They ended—tried to end same-day registration, they cut early voting—all of the tools that were being used, particularly by African Americans, Latinos and poor people, that had North Carolina go from in the bottom of voting to the fourth-highest increase in voting. They even stopped allowing outer precinct voting and made it easier for citizens to challenge people while they were in line. This is an all-out attack. Most scholars say it’s the worst attack in the country since Shelby. Now, it began, Amy, with the redistricting earlier, which allowed a supermajority not to get elected but to get put in office, because they cheated by creating these apartheid districts, voting districts, that are now being challenged in the court. We’re challenging the law in the court, and we’re beginning to win in the court. The Fourth Circuit said that many of these things, on their face, were unconstitutional.
But what we see happening here is the extremists are playing the Southern strategy again. They know that if they can lock up 13 Southern states, that gives them 26 senators; 135 members of the House of Representatives, which is 31 percent of the House of Representatives; 26—13 governors, who control boards of elections and the state legislatures; and 160 electoral votes, which means a person running for president, if they lock up the South, they only need 102 electoral votes in the other 37 states. This is a game to try to hold onto the solid South, at the very time that black and white and Latino coalitions can be built to break open the solid South that was created by the Southern strategy.
So, that woman’s story and many, many other stories are exactly what we’re talking about and why we are fighting so hard and why we see this also as a matter of faith. You know, I’m a Christian pastor. And in my faith, the Imago Dei—everybody is created in the image of God. Voting was denied in this country originally because people were considered three-fifths of a person, not in the image of God. So not only is it bad constitutionally, it is bad theologically, because to deny the right to vote is literally to suggest that a person does not—is not created in the image of God, and therefore they can be rendered to second-class citizenship.