Rev. William Barber: Progressives Need Their Own 'Southern Strategy'

William Barber, chair of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Committee Future Forum in Houston, Texas on January 28, urging the party to come together at a pivotal moment in the nation's history. 


"In this moral crisis we have, it demands a political pentecost in America," Barber announced. "It's time to come together. And I know about the power of getting together," he pressed, turning to a rich array of biblical allusions.

Barber, a Protestant minister, spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where Hillary Clinton received the party's nomination. In Raleigh, North Carolina, he leads Moral Mondays, a collaboration between civil rights leaders, local progressives and environmentalists.

In Houston, Barber discussed President Trump with "The Young Turks" reporter Nomiki Konst following his opening remarks. 

"When you look at history... we've seen [this] very clear before," he noted. "There's always a reaction and an attempt to reclaim, when black, white and brown people come together again to push the envelope of our political structure. But we also know that in the past, when peoples chose to come together, race, class and morality together, not isolating themselves, we have seen power."

Barber urged progressives not to search for the "silver bullet" of specific voting blocs, but instead to think intersectionally. 

"What we have to get people to understand is the intersectionality of our concerns. And that in America, if you don't address morality and values, racism and discrimination, income and economic justice, then you really do not have the kind of movement and the kind of foundations necessary for fundamental transformation. We've got to build a movement," he told Konst.

He advised the left to challenge traditionally red districts from the bottom up. 

"Go back to the states... challenge statehouses. Many progressives have stopped doing that," he added.

Of course, this also means combating code phrases Republicans have championed for decades: "Tax cuts... entitlement reform, protecting personal rights and states' rights," Barber rattled off, turning to what he calls racist "mythology."

"You know what the southern strategy basically says?" he asked. "If you can find out who hates who, and pit them against one another... [you can fool] people to vote against their best interests, particularly in the South [where] you've got 8 million more poor white people than you have black... in 10 of the 12 poorest states. Yet we keep electing candidates, particularly at a congressional level and at a state level, who are averse to the very programs that would help the poor."

Barber pointed out that Donald Trump is neither the first nor the last politician to exploit these tactics. 

"[Trump] started out with birtherism. He started out with all of these racial code words. And he said things that President Obama, or any black man, maybe even white woman, that other people could not say," Barber noted. "He's an example of the exportation of white privilege."

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