Linda J. Carr Carlson -NAACP Milwaukee Branch
Madison, WI—March 13, 2014. Close to 700 Worker, Labor and Civil Rights activists filed into Bethel Lutheran Church in Madison, WI on Thursday evening to hear an address by Rev. Dr. William Barber II, President of the North Carolina NAACP and co-leader of the Moral Monday Movement. In the racially diverse audience of progressive activists were a number of members and officers of the NAACP of Wisconsin Conference of Branches, including Wisconsin Conference President, Lillie Wilson and 1st Vice President, Wendell Harris.
As co-leader of the multiracial, multi-issue social justice movement, Rev. Barber had been invited to share his insights and experiences gained through his involvement with the Moral Monday Movement with the people of Wisconsin. Rev. Barber’s appearance in Madison was at the request of Patrick Barrett of the Labor & Working Class Studies Project (LWCSP), who along with Madison labor attorney, Jonathan Rosenblum, led the effort to bring Barber to Madison. Welcoming Rev. Barber to Madison were, Professor Will Jones, of the University of Wisconsin; Kevin Gundlach, President, South Central Federation of Labor and Gwen Jones, Chair of the NAACP of Dane County Organizing Committee.
The program began with an enthusiastic group “sing along,” led by Madison’s Solidarity Singers, and joined by the powerful voice of singer, Yara Allen, who is often referred to as the ”Voice of Moral Monday.”
Rev. Barber’s address, “The People’s Moral Agenda: Anti-Racism, Anti-Poverty, Pro-Labor,” electrified the crowd while simultaneously creating the feel of a church revival as he delineated what is moral, by positioning biblical tenets, against the social justice failures being faced by citizens throughout the nation. Issues such as voting, health care, environment and education “are moral issues, faith issues,” Barber said
Placing much of his presentation in the context of U.S. History, three distinct periods of “Reconstruction” were identified. First, 1868 immediately following the Civil War; the second 1954-1968, following Brown vs. the Board of Education and the third 2008, we are currently in the midst of, was marked by the successful candidacy and election of President Barack Obama. As he elaborated on each period, Rev. Barber pointed out that the success of each was due to a political “fusion” coalition of diverse groups with differing interests coming together, each ultimately seeking justice, and their common goal made progress possible. Rev. Barber further stated that “wherever there is moral reconstruction, there will be immoral deconstruction.” He went on to state how historically, the “deconstructionists” attack voting rights, educational opportunity, labor rights, fair tax revenue and often assassinate white and black progressive leaders.
As he expanded on creating a “fusion coalition”, Rev. Barber cautioned the audience to “stop seeing yourself thru the eyes of our adversary. “ He explained that successful relationships must be transformative, not transactional, and that all participants must believe in the rights of all.
He further emphasized that anti-racism and poverty must be at the heart of any fusion coalition, and it must be taken seriously be all members, because the coalition doesn’t win until all members win.
Rev. Barber shared with the audience the five principles that comprise the foundation of a moral fusion coalition:
- Secure Pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that ensure economic sustainability while fighting for full employment, living wages, labor rights, alleviation of disparate unemployment and a green economy.
- Empowerment zones, strong safety nets for the poor, fair policies for immigrants, infrastructure development, and fair tax reform.
- Education reform that ensures that every child receives a high quality, constitutional, well-funded, diverse public education.
- Healthcare for all by ensuring access to the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and environmental protection.
- Protect and expand voting rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights and the fundamental principle of equal protection under the law for everyone.
Overall, Rev. Barber’s message to Madison was one focused on action and empowerment. His instruction to the crowd was: “We must raise our moral dissent, it’s our calling. It may not happen overnight, but faith without works is dead, but faith with works can set a stage for things to change.” “We must be the ones to demand higher ground.”
In parting, Rev. Barber told the audience, “Moral dissent is the pathway to higher ground. Keep to the path of nonviolence and civil disobedience. Stay out of the valleys and swamps of politics; that’s the snake zone. Stick to the higher ground.”
“Dr. Barber’s speech was timely as we prepare to take on all of the issues that we are faced with here in Dane County and in other places in the State. I was ready for the fight before and listening to him strengthened my confidence and courage to stand up for justice!” –Betty Banks, NAACP of Dane County Organizing Committee
“Reverend Barber uplifted spirits, raised consciousness, and heightened possibilities with his approach to coalition building through Moral dissent. His message is exactly what’s needed at this time for Dane County to reach higher ground! –Greg Jones, NAACP of Dane County Organizing Committee
The NAACP Wisconsin Conference of Branches has become the first northern State Conference to officially become a member of the Moral Monday Movement. Rev. Barber will return to Madison during the month of May to conduct the first Wisconsin Training Session. According to NAACP of Wisconsin Conference of Branches President, Lillie Wilson, “All of the ideals the Moral Monday Movement stands for are needed in Wisconsin. We are looking forward to making the Moral Monday Movement’s agenda part of our focus in the state of Wisconsin.” Mr. Wendell J. Harris, Wisconsin Conference 1st Vice President concurred, stating, “If ever there was a time that the people of Wisconsin needed Reverend Barber to come here and share his ideas, it is now. We must strategize how we can also launch our own Moral Monday Campaign. Proof of this assertion rings true in the dire conditions that our working class people face. Rather than delivering 250,000 promised, our state leaders prioritize the mass incarceration of our most disenfranchised people. Wisconsin remains the leading state in the incarceration of its nonviolent offenders. With prospects of economic and social mobility we are also on the verge of losing our most essential right, the right to vote. Like the people of North Carolina we too are waiting to hear from the Wisconsin Supreme Court on whether our citizens will have unrestricted access to vote. The parallels are undeniable. The Wisconsin Conference of Branches welcomes the arrival of Reverend Barber, one of the greatest Civil Rights leaders of our time, with great enthusiasm!
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities.