By Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II
A week ago tonight, we were in Kansas City, MO, for The Revival: Time for a Moral Revolution of Values. Local leaders had organized a strong witness at the Missouri state house just a week before, highlighting how the governor and legislature have worked together to pass policies which they frame as righteous though they hurt the most vulnerable. I thought of the quote from Corretta Scott King, when they asked her about the violence that had killed her husband.
“I must remind you,” she replied, “that starving a child is violence. Neglecting school children is violence. Punishing a mother and her family is violence. Discrimination against a working man is violence. Ghetto housing is violence. Ignoring medical need is violence. Contempt for poverty is violence.” The violence of refusing to expand Medicaid is killing hundreds of people each year in Missouri. The violence of voter suppression is more than an insult to the children of people who fought and died for the Voting Rights Act. It is an act of provocation—a smack in the face.
I hadn’t even made it back home on Tuesday before I learned that a police officer in Charlotte, NC, had shot and killed Keith Scott. Protests irrupted immediately, and some provocateurs responded to aggressive policing with violence and looting. Officials immediately condemned the violence. But only the violence of the provocateurs. Not the systemic violence that weighs on poor, African-American communities like the one where Mr. Scott lived.
It was a long week in Charlotte, and we’ve worked hard both to support the strong, local organizing by partners on the ground and to challenge false narratives aimed to serve politicians’ self-interest. I spoke about this recently in the New York Times and NPR.
I’m tired of watching the turmoil of those who are blamed for their own suffering and grief, often by the very people who stand in the way of the justice they need.
But I’m also encouraged. Because despite the tear gas and the riot gear, thousands of people in Charlotte are standing together and marching together. They are black, white and brown. They are rich and they are poor. They are gay and they are straight. They are people of faith and they are people without faith who still believe in a moral universe. This week, I’ve watched Charlotte clergy who were with us in Raleigh for the Moral Day of Action two weeks ago lead their community in a faithful, nonviolent insistence that any government, which does not serve all its people must be changed. They are not protesting against Charlotte’s police and it’s leaders. They are protesting for them—working and praying together for a city that can dwell together in peace.
Tonight, our Moral Revival goes to Richmond, Virginia. I am staying with the community in Charlotte, but the Rev. Dr. Forbes will preach and we will hear from people who are hurting across Virginia during the most watched presidential debate in US history. Whatever happens in the debate, the people who are impacted by state and federal policies are what this election is really about. In synagogues and churches, at state houses and in the streets, people are coming together like never before in fusion coalitions that demand a moral agenda for the common good. These are the people who are going to change the political conversation in America. These are the people who are laying the groundwork for a Third Reconstruction. These are the people who give me hope that we can, in fact, become a more prefect union in November and beyond.