Meet the Preacher Behind Moral Mondays

Coming to Beaver County in June, The Reverend William Barber is charting a new path for protesting Republican overreach in the South—and maybe beyond.

By Lisa Rab

Beaver County Blue via Mother Jones

April 14, 2014 – The Reverend William Barber is charting a new path for protesting conservative overreach in the North Carolina—and beyond.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, the Reverend William Barber II [1] reclined uncomfortably in a chair in his office, sipping bottled water as he recovered from two hours of strenuous preaching. When he was in his early 20s, Barber was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful arthritic condition affecting the spine. Still wearing his long black robes, the 50-year-old minister recounted how, as he’d proclaimed in a rolling baritone from the pulpit that morning, "a crippled preacher has found his legs."

It began a few days before Easter 2013, recalled Barber, pastor at the Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and president of the state chapter [2] of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). "On Maundy Thursday, they chose to crucify voting rights," he said.

"They" are North Carolina Republicans, who in November 2012 took control of the state Legislature and the governor’s mansion for the first time in more than a century. Among their top priorities—along with blocking Medicaid expansion and cutting unemployment benefits and higher-education spending—was pushing through a raft of changes to election laws, including reducing the number of early voting days, ending same-day voter registration, and requiring ID at the polls. "That’s when a group of us said, ‘Wait a minute, this has just gone too far,’" Barber said.

Barber "believed we needed to kind of burst this bubble of ‘There’s nothing we can do for two years until the next election.’"

On the last Monday of April 2013, Barber led a modest group of clergy and activists into the state legislative building in Raleigh. They sang "We Shall Overcome," quoted the Bible, and blocked the doors to the Senate chambers. Barber leaned on his cane as capitol police led him away in handcuffs.

That might have been the end of just another symbolic protest, but then something happened: The following Monday, more than 100 protesters showed up at the capitol. Over the next few months, the weekly crowds at the "Moral Mondays" protests grew to include hundreds, and then thousands, not just in Raleigh but also in towns around the state. The largest gathering, in February, drew tens of thousands of people [3]. More than 900 protesters have been arrested for civil disobedience over the past year. Copycat movements have started in Florida [4], Georgia [5], South Carolina [6], and Alabama [7] in response to GOP legislation regarding Medicaid and gun control.

Continue reading Meet the Preacher Behind Moral Mondays

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