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We must come together as a coalition powerful enough to end and overcome the suppression and organize the resurrection of fusion politics in the South.
The following are the prepared remarks from Bishop William J. Barber II, president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, delivered March 11, 2022, on last day of the Selma-to-Montgomery march which started earlier in the week.
Since we left Selma on Monday morning, I had to make a detour to Memphis to stand with Starbucks workers who were fired for trying to organize a union. And as I was driving from that march back to this one, I thought about how movements are always about the people. Yes, we march for freedom. Yes, we march for justice. But we do it because we know and love people who are bound; people who suffer from injustice.
And I thought to myself, why don’t we insist on naming the bridge and highway after the people who motivate us in this struggle? I wasn’t in Selma with you because I hate a former Klansman named Edmund Pettus. No, I was there because I loved and learned from every foot soldier.
Why don’t we call it the “People’s Bridge” and place the names of every person killed? Jimmie Lee Jackson. James Reeb. Viola Liuzzo. Why don’t we place the name of every foot soldier beaten, Amelia Boynton, John Lewis and every person who eventually crossed, the lawyers who fought the legal battles?
When I look down from these steps today, I’m not here because George Wallace once thought this state house would stand as an eternal fortress against desegregation. No, I’m here because the preacher who learned to be a pastor at that little church down there on the left stood here 57 years ago and taught some history that we desperately need to remember now. Here’s what Dr. King said when they arrived on March 25th, 1965.
“Toward the end of the Reconstruction era, something very significant happened.” (The movement began uniting the Negro and white masses especially poor into a voting bloc made up of all people that threatened to drive the southern aristocracy and money interests from the command posts of political power in the South.)
To meet this threat, the Southern aristocracy began immediately to engineer the development of a segregated society. Racism is rooted in the fear of a restructuring of the American economic architecture to help everyone. So Dr. King stood here and taught a history lesson. Listen to what he said:
“Thus, the threat of the free exercise of the ballot by the Negro and the white masses alike resulted in the establishment of a segregated society. That’s what happened when the Negro and white masses of the South threatened to unite and build a great society: a society of justice where none would pray upon the weakness of others; a society of plenty where greed and poverty would be done away with
We must remember this today.
There is not a state in the South where the voting population is under 40% poor and low-income people. One-third of America’s poor live in the South. If we remember the original wisdom and political understanding of the Selma-to-Montgomery march, we have an opportunity to galvanize enough of this demographic to change the South and change the nation.
The South is not so much a Red voting region; it is a voter suppression region, an abandoned region, where far too many politicians—Black and white, Democrats and Republicans—ignore the power of poor and low-wealth voters.
Today, for those of us raised in the South and who live in the South, our work must be to keep building a moral fusion movement. We must come together as a coalition powerful enough to end and overcome the suppression and organize the resurrection of fusion politics in the South. We must build power to enact a Third Reconstruction agenda to end systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, the denial of healthcare, the disabling of public education, the war economy, and the false, distorted narrative of religious nationalism for the saving of the soul of this country.
(Watch the full speech, which begins at approximately 1:59:06, here)
Selma-to-Montgomery was not about personality. And it wasn’t just Black people on that march. It was a direct action in a moral movement to change the soul of the country, obtaining the full promise of democracy. Voting policy was key to the vision then, and this should be our focus today:
Moral movements are never just about one issue. They have always been and should be about building power to change systems for uplift of the masses, especially the poor.
When Dr. King stood here and gave the “why” for their march, he listed:
He said, Let us march on ballot boxes until race-baiters disappear from the political arena.
Replaced by people who will not fear to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.
And this should still be our spirit today. And this is why the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is holding a 10-state Mobilization leading to our Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls. This program on June 18th is not just a day of action but a declaration of our commitment to a
The fight for voting rights today is and must be always connected to the fight to address the poverty that impacts 140 million Americans. The 87 million Americans who are uninsured or under-insured. The 4 million who can buy unleaded gas but can’t get unleaded water in their homes.
The 31 million working people who do not earn $15 an hour.
Regressive corporate money is trying to block voting rights and create gerrymandered districts that determine who can be elected before votes even cast, because they oppose the people’s agenda on all of these issues.
Voting rights and labor rights are the same fight along with living wages, health care, immigrant, and LGBTQ rights.
We cannot win on any one of these issues unless we come together and fight voter suppression that may target Black and brown people, but IT HURTS US ALL.
In Hebrews, the word for vote is the same word for voice—kol.
Kol: My voice comes from God. Kol: My vote comes from God.
This is why, for us, voting rights is a moral issue. We demand Democrats bring the original For the People Act that John Lewis helped to write back before the Senate.
We demand to bring back to the floor a full restoration of the Voting Rights Act.
We demand a vote on living wages.
We will march and protest and even put our bodies on the line because this kol we have…this vote we have… this power we have.
God gave it to me. The world didn’t give it to me. And the world can’t take it away.
The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is holding a 10-state Mobilization leading to the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls. This program on June 18th is not just a day of action but a declaration of an ongoing, committed moral movement.
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Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach, and co-chair of the the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. His books include: “The Third Reconstruction: How A Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear” (2016), “Revive Us Again: Vision and Action in Moral Organizing” (2018) and “We Are Called to Be a Movement” (2020).