Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Rev. Barber Gets Deep On Conservative Dogma

Rev William Barber leads a Moral Monday protest in NC
It was just about four weeks ago that a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court unanimously ruled that the restrictive voter ID laws passed by the hyper-conservative Republican-dominated North Carolina state legislature back in 2013 were intentionally discriminatory against African-Americans and purposefully designed not to protect voter integrity but to repress voter turnout among black citizens.

A hard fought victory fueled in no small part by public pressure and outrage.

A win not only for the citizens of North Carolina and the basic principle of American Democracy, but also for the thousands of people who took part in the peaceful Moral Monday demonstrations led by the Reverend Doctor William Barber, II, President of the NC chapter of the NAACP and ardent social activist (pictured above, center, in black).

A man who has emerged as one of the most important grass roots leaders of the progressive movement since the 2010 elections swept a wave of extremist conservative Republicans into Congress, governor's mansions and state legislatures across the country.

In the wake of Republicans (including a number of Tea Party zealots) seizing a majority in the NC state legislature in 2013, they cut taxes on the wealthiest residents, slashed unemployment benefits for people still struggling to gain a foothold in a still-recovering economy, blocked a Medicaid expansion that would have helped over 500,000 North Carolinians gain access to health care through the Affordable Care Act, cut state funding for education, and passed some of the most archaic voter restriction laws seen since the Jim Crow era.

Barber address thousands at a Moral Monday protest
Fueled by public outrage, Rev. Barber helped form a broad coalition of activists that crossed religious, ethnic, socio-economic and racial boundaries.

Between April of 2013 and November of 2014 the Moral Mondays movement held over 200 different events in 54 different counties across NC.

It's no surprise he lead this non-violent protest movement which also spread to other American cities.

With a deep grasp of policy issues and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the history of slavery, the Jim Crow era and the civil rights movement in America, he brings a calm, quiet authority when he speaks on matters related to the spiritual responsibility to respond to progressive social issues that strikes me as reminiscent of Dr. King.

Earlier this morning Barber, who was an imposing and inspirational presence at the Moral Mondays protests outside the state house in Raleigh, NC, was the focus of a segment on The Brian Lehrer Show to discuss the evolution of the Republican party into a platform that uses code words to embrace discrimination and extremist dogma that divide the nation, and justifies the suppression of some citizen's Constitutional right to vote as an acceptable national political tactic.

If you heard Rev. Barber speak during the recent Democratic National Convention, then you know that his intelligence, knowledge and deep commitment to a link between spiritual beliefs and practices and social justice makes him a formidable and charismatic speaker.

Click the link above to hear his interview with Brian Lehrer this morning if you've never heard him.

Trump before his "black outreach" speech on Friday
He offered some piercing insight into how today's Republican party manipulates fact to intentionally present a distorted view of America to appeal to the lowest common denominator in American politics.

Rev. Barber noted that Donald Trump, in his recent "outreach" to black voters last Friday (in front of a largely white audience in Dimondale, Michigan), implored African-Americans to vote for him because:

"You're living in poverty, your schools are no good, 58% of your youth is unemployed - what the Hell do you have to loose?"

Trump's words reflect the kind of distorted, simplistic one-dimensional perspective of black America constantly peddled by Fox News and right wing media that's rooted in ingrained bias and inaccurate assumptions based on race - when he talks about blacks it's couched in the typically divisive "Us vs. Them" language used by conservatives; "your schools", "your youth" not "our".

His facts were, as usual for Trump, way off. For example, according to an examination of Trump's claims about black youth unemployment by, the actual unemployment rate for African-Americans ages 16 to 24 is actually just under 19% - that's still twice the rate for whites in the same age group, but it's nowhere near 58%.

As Rev. Barber noted, and as data from the Economic Policy Institute shows, approximately 27% of black Americans and 26% of Hispanics live in poverty (which is still unacceptably high) as opposed to 10% of whites.

What does poverty in America look like?
But that 10% of whites living in poverty actually dwarfs the number of blacks and Hispanics combined who live in poverty.

Yet Trump, like other Republicans, constantly paints poverty as an exclusively urban "black or Hispanic" issue.

Though the bulk of the 46 million people who lived in poverty in the U.S in 2010 were white, conservatives continually portray poor Americans as people of color or undocumented immigrants.

And remember, according to the EPI data cited above, in 2011 28% of U.S. workers earned poverty wages (under $11.06 an hour), so while conservatives relish wagging their fingers at the "idea" of lazy poor Americans hanging around waiting for government assistance, most Americans living in poverty are working poor - part of the 99% of Americans whose wages have remained stagnant for three decades.

So the empty kind of rhetoric Republicans use to try and appeal to minorities and the poor is simply lip service served up with smug hypocrisy that's actually targeted to more affluent white voters.

Economic inequality, wage stagnation and poor education are the biggest factors in people remaining stuck in poverty in America.

During his interview with Brian Lehrer, Rev. Barber wisely made the observation that Republicans, particularly Trump, make bold claims about wanting to help impoverished blacks, yet Republicans overwhelmingly oppose minimum wage guarantees, affordable health care, infrastructure spending and investment in public schools - the very  kinds of things most affected by government spending that could actually help lift people out of poverty and the kinds of programs that helped lift impoverished whites out of poverty in the 30's and 40's.

Perhaps the Republican need to wistfully look backwards to the 1950's as some kind of mythical golden age (Make America Great Again!) reflects their negatively distorted views of the poor, immigrants and people of color who exist here in the 21st century America of the present.

It's reassuring that people like Rev. William Barber have the moral clarity to see the truth; and the courage to demand that politicians elected to represent the people do the same.

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