In this two-part conversation, Michael Harriot speaks with Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II about the significance of the midterm elections and the Poor People’s Campaign’s National Call for Revival.
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Michael Harriot [00:00:05] Hello. And welcome to another episode of theGrio Daily, the only podcast that will tell you that white people really don’t vote against their economic interests. They vote for the lies that they’ve been led to believe about the economic interest. I’m Michael Harry, a world famous white biologist, and this is theGrio Daily. Today, we’re going to have a guest. You know, I know it’s rare, but we have an actual guest that can speak to that because, you know, sometimes we separate religion from politics. Sometimes we separate morality from economics. We believe that, you know, economic issues are different from moral issues. But today’s guest, you know, is going to disprove all of that. We have Reverend William Barber. He’s the co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and he is the senior lecturer and president of Repairers of the Breach. And on Sunday, he’s going to be giving a national sermon from Atlanta on the importance of all of these issues, specifically not just about getting out the vote, but why voting is a more moral issue, why it is a national issue of our future in our in our morality and our compassion and our empathy in how we treat poor people. So I want to welcome Reverend William Barber to theGrio Daily. You know, one of the things that we’ve talked about before and you always are intent on talking about is how the interests of poor white voters and poor people in general are aligned politically. And, you know, sometimes we think that there is one party who represents Black people in one party who represents white people. And I’d like you to talk about how those those two ideas conflict with each other.
Dr. Rev. William J. Barber II [00:02:16] Well, first of all, thank you for having me. And let’s get right into the fact that that was a ploy and the plan that was set up by the Southern Strategy. And if you know that history and you know that Kevin Phillips and Pat Buchanan and Howard Dent went to Richard Nixon at 68 and said, we know how to control this country, but we have to engage in positive polarization. We have to make sure that people think of the Democratic Party, the Black party, and we have to sow intentional division rooted in the victories and successes of the civil rights movement and the women’s movement and the peace movement and the labor movement. And if we do this in the right way, we will create this division. And Jonathan Shier wrote in his book called A Time of Illusion. So the whole business of engaging in intentional division was a ploy by extremists funded heavily by the corporate greed of this country. So so the ploy what we have played into too often is that ploy. There’s been a lot of lies told even on my poor white brothers and sisters in Appalachia, for instance, the last election, over 50% of poor and lower voter voted for, say, Biden-Harris. Why did they vote? Because that was one of the first times in a presidential campaign in recent history where two persons ran and said, if you elect us, we’re going to raise the living wage to $15, which in fact impacts 55 million Americans in this country, which in fact, is something that the March on Washington asked for over 50 years ago, nearly 60 years ago.
Dr. Rev. William J. Barber II [00:03:53] Secondly, they said we’re going to deal with racism, specifically systemic racism as it relates to voter suppression, because voter suppression today, while it is targeted at Black people, one of the things we learned in the case that we won in North Carolina, we fought for five years to beat the case against the government and the legislature and to the courts all the way up to the Supreme Court said they had engaged in racism with surgical precision. But our case also had plaintiffs who were white women, disabled people, students, churches, Latinos, because we show that that intentional racial precision had collateral damage. Right. And it was in creating an impoverished democracy. So the plan was by the Southern strategies that was still that is really what is at the backdrop of what Trump has done and every Republican since since Nixon, is this intentional polarization. It’s out of control now, but that was the design, King said. However, there’s another vision 1965, at the end of the Selma to Montgomery march, Martin Luther King stood on that steps and I think preached his greatest sermon. His greatest closing I believe was I Have a dream. But his greatest sermon was when he walked America through the history of the first reconstruction. Talk about how we were in the middle of our second reconstruction. And then he said that segregation, racism and all of the things to divide us were intentional acts to keep the masses of poor Negro. This was his language and the mass of poor white folk from coming together, creating a voting bloc that could fundamentally re-shift the economic architect of the nation.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr [00:05:37] They segregated southern money from the poor whites. They segregated southern mores from from the rich whites. They segregated southern churches from Christianity. They segregated southern minds from honest thinking and they segregated the Negro from everything. That’s what happened. The Negro and white masses of the south threatened to united and build a great society.
Dr. Rev. William J. Barber II [00:06:10] And I believe when he said that and was going to operate on that from 65 forward. That’s what made him even more dangerous because he said in that same statement, this has been the great fear of the southern aristocracy and aristocracy of this country. These blocks, and including Latinos and natives coming together, not walking away from race, but holding race and class, race and economics together in a way to form a new block of voters that have massive power. And we are in the moment right now where that power can be actualized. 87 million of the current eligible voters in this country are poor and or low. Well, in every battleground state where the margin of victory was less than 3%, poor and low wage voters make up over 45% of the electorate. Think about that. In the time in which we live and in some states, the percentages of the number of poor and low wealth people, if you could get the percentage of them to vote who didn’t vote in the last election, it’s incredible to me how small it is it would take to overcome any margin of victory. North Carolina it’s only 19%. Michigan, 1%. Florida, 4%. Georgia, 7%. Pennsylvania, 4%.
Dr. Rev. William J. Barber II [00:07:33] We often hear that talked about though, brother. And often times we hear politicians now. It boggles me how if 80% of the country wants to raise a living wage, you know, why isn’t that a major thing? If if the people the same people who suppress the vote, also the people who suppress labor, suppress wages. Why are they talking about that together? Well, we’ve decided the people have to do can’t wait on the party structure because oftentimes the parties end up following the people rather than leading the people. But we are in a moment, we had more poor and low wealth folk vote in the last election than ever, and still 27 million didn’t. And we’re talking about some 60% percent who are already registered. The number one reason, though, this bloc of voters have not voted. Whether you go to Appalachia or Alabama and I’ve gone to all those places, you know, the number one reason is they say nobody talks to us. Nobody talks to us. Yeah.
Michael Harriot [00:08:37] Well, let me ask you this. You know, and I know you’ve been working on this for four decades. How do we get you know, when you even when you go back to Reconstruction, when you look at the numbers, right. Like, you know, Black people vote overwhelmingly for their economic concerns. We’re just finishing with this series of polls for a poll that we’ve done that shows that, you know, the number one concern of of Black voters is economic concerns, which is also the number one concern of white voters. How do we get people to vote? Not even let’s just leave party out of it for representation of people who represent and push their economic concerns.
Dr. Rev. William J. Barber II [00:09:23] Well, the first thing is, don’t believe the lie that most poor wife would vote against their own interest. That’s not data driven stuff. Something else is a part of this. What was so we said in the last election, 54% of poor and low wealth voters that voted voted for Biden-Harris ticket. They voted for progressive agenda, even if they didn’t agree with everything. And the other thing. So don’t believe the lie.
[00:09:45] Secondly, we have to make sure that people understand the interlocking connections between systemic racism, systemic poverty, and then we have to help people understand that these realities are policy driven. And the only way you can change policy, you have to change the policy. Make that next. We have to make sure people know that. Now. It is so much time spent telling people the power they don’t have and what they can’t do. Rather than saying, Look, this is the power you have. When we walk in rooms now and say, did you do you realize that, for instance, in, say, North Carolina, not one candidate in 2021 by a margin of more than, say, 170,000 votes, but 1 million poor and low wealth voters did not vote. So just 19, 20% of that overcome that margin. But if you overcome that margin, you could also have health care. You can also have living wage. You also have a clean environment. You could also have your protected voting, right? People then start saying, I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that. And when people know that, not only is what that what they what they want is right, but they have the power to make it right that there comes a point that you no longer have to talk about what they did to us or what Trump did or somebody else did. What we can talk about is what we can do. Now, this has been a challenge down through history, even biblical history. You remember when the Church of Israel came out of Egypt and they were running for Pharaoh, they said, Stand still and watch the salvation of the Lord. Lord said, I ain’t tell you stand still. I told you, I asked you what’s in your hands. And that’s what I’ll be talking about in his sermon. Partly this national sermon that comes a time, as Howard Thurmond said, you have to assess the enemy or your adversary is not hitting you with all these attacks because you’re weak, they must see something that you need to see.
Michael Harriot [00:11:42] Tell us about about this national sermon. And, you know that your planning that, you know, is, you know, basically focused on the concerns that we hear talking about today. Tell us about it. Give the viewers the details on this national sermon.
Dr. Rev. William J. Barber II [00:11:58] Well, you know, it’s the second or third one we’ve done. And, you know, one of the things I get to do is speak out of a place where we have significant victories, you know, in the Moral Monday movement. We didn’t just had 1200 people to go to jail. We waged a successful litigation campaign. We waged a successful voter registration campaign. We were able to vote. And we never endorsed candidates. We endorsed issues. But we were able to send candidates home to didn’t agree with the issue because we show people what they can do. So part of this sermon is to say, number one, we’re in a moment now that really is about whether we’re going to have an impoverished democracy or whether we’re going to save the soul of the heart of this democracy. That’s number one.
Dr. Rev. William J. Barber II [00:12:37] Number two, that we’re in a perfect place right now where it’s not about Democrat versus Republican, left versus right. It’s really about right versus wrong. It’s really about life versus death. 700 people die every day from poverty. They don’t have to die. A quarter million people a year. We’ve got 87 million people either uninsured or underinsured. 4 million people get up every morning can buy unleaded gas, can’t buy unleaded water. 55 million people that make less than a living wage and 49, 50 senators last year, 48 Democrats and I mean 48 Republican and 2 Democrat blocked 55 million Americans from coming out of poverty with one vote number when they block the living wage. It was a Manchin and Sinema joined the republican. But not only did they block over 40% of Black people. That’s racism. You won’t talk about racism when you use one vote to block 40% of a people from coming up out of poverty.
Dr. Rev. William J. Barber II [00:13:41] So what the sermon is saying and the title of it is We Know What To Do and Why We Must Do It. In other words, we don’t have to guess what we have to do. We know what has worked in the past. We know that change always comes through litigation, agitation and legislation and and voter mobilization. That’s just true. So if you know that, you don’t have to guess what to do, you have to do it. And so what we are going to be arguing is, though, in this moment, it really is about the soul. Because something is wrong. When folk are attacking mercy, we think about that. When you when you run for office and you see your role as to attack healthcare, attack living wage is attack immigrant attack women that’s attacking mercy. What mythology? What’s wrong with true that you would attack uplifting people. But and we may not be able to change people from attacking. But Dr. King said and I will talk about this Sunday, he said The reason it’s long time he fought for civil rights laws, that it might not make people like him, but it could keep them from lynching him. We may not be able to make people change in their mind, but we can vote to change the position. We can vote that they have all the attitude they want and the mentality about what they want. But we can send them home so that they don’t have the power to implement their classism and their racism. That’s what we’re going to be talking about, the power that people have and why you can’t sit out.
Dr. Rev. William J. Barber II [00:15:16] Lastly. My friend, there are two perspectives I want to open up. And what I call public theology. One is that did you know that in the Bible, the word for vote and the word for voice is the same word in Hebrew? Qol. So your vote is your voice. Your vote is not just support for a candidate. It is a demand for a particular kind of public policy. And then the last piece I’m going to deal with is when Jesus asked the question of some people with a group of people at a pool, and they were all in misery. And Jesus came to that pool and asked a man, do you want to be made whole? And the guy started complaining, said, Well, I don’t have the power to do this. He said, That’s not the question I’m asking. The question I’m asking is, you all have enough people here to work together. And change what’s going on. This this this misery pool does not have to be misery. But do you want to be made whole? If we do, then we need to be voting in massive numbers around an agenda. We’re not going to perfect. We’re not voting because people are bigger than human. We’re voting because we have demands that we’re making on our democracy.
Dr. Rev. William J. Barber II [00:16:29] And lastly, the other thing we’re going to deal with in the Senate is how we cannot allow people. They play these games with the gospel or these games with biblical morality. What I mean by that is take, for instance, Herschel Walker, where he’s saying, you know, I may have done this stuff, but I met Jesus and and Jesus forgave me. And so that’s all in the past. And people say he’s a hypocrite because he may have paid for somebody having an abortion and now he’s against abortion. But I want to say to America, that’s not the ultimate hypocrisy of someone like Herschel on the hypocrisy is you want mercy, but then in your policies you don’t want to be merciful. The hypocrisy is you claim to be a Christian, but every one of the policies you’re supporting, you’re against living wages. The Bible is for a living wage. You’re against health care. The Bible is clearly for health care. You’re against immigrants. The Bible is clearly for immigrants. So what’s happening is you’re trying to appropriate faith in a way that’s contrary to faith, and people of faith ought to be offended by that.
Michael Harriot [00:17:41] We’ll continue this conversation next time on theGrio Daily. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review. Download theGrio app, subscribe to the show and share it with everyone you know.
[00:17:55] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.