“It’s a Heart Problem.” Reverend Dr. Barber’s Long Summer

President’s Column.
Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden
Robert Reutenauer. October 2016

A dozen members of our congregation joined a packed auditorium for the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber’s rousing oratory— “It’s a Heart Problem”— at Central CT State University on September 8. Reverend Barber’s North Carolina “Moral Monday” movement, which inspires duplication as he travels the nation, has become a force in many of our lives in a very short time. Our anti-racism ministry is key in helping us realize our mission. Angie Swimage-for-website-due-justice-9-8anger leads these efforts, and has done a wonderful job making sure that we  are practicing loving community, advancing justice, and nurturing spiritual growth while we are at it!  Witness our church’s deep involvement in Moral Monday CT and the newly formed  D.U.E. Justice group that sponsored his talk.  UUCM was well represented for the National Day of Action/Moral Monday CT demonstration in Hartford on Monday, September 12.

Reverend Barber spoke at the UU General Assembly this summer and later at the Democratic National Convention. Many of us watched on live feeds or streamed later.  It’s a Heart Problem,” he repeated convincingly all summer long while calling attention to how extremists expect to remake America by defunding state government in the interest of wealthy people and corporations. They hope that curbing federal health care and unemployment benefits to millions of qualified people in the states will be accepted as necessary for a healthy business climate. Cuts in public education, deregulation of polluting industries, denial of equal protection for gay and lesbian people, skyrocketing incarceration, and suppression of voting rights of minorities are key planks of this agenda.

The recent and continuing North Carolina experience of fight back against this well funded extremism is detailed in  Reverend Barber’s 2016 book The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of the New Justice Movement.  The book has been a “common read” for our Anti-Racism work this summer. What we learned from the book will no doubt feature in the “Revolutionary Conversations” series led by Bishop John Selders, a close Barber ally, at UUCM this Fall.

What does a 21st century social justice coalition look like? This is the question he asks in the book and that his organizing and preaching answers.  First, it must be a moral movement.  “We cannot let narrow religious forces hijack our moral vocabulary,” he charges.  “At the heart of all our religious traditions are truth, justice, love, mercy.”

It must be a broad and unified movement of justice loving people united in a coalition and committed to each others issues and to a strategy of “fusion” that can make real the promise of democracy. “We cannot come together to work for the common good by ignoring our deepest values…. We stand together where our values unite us and learn to respect one another where our traditions differ.” All manner of people are welcomed
— religious and secular, union members and merchants, immigrant rights activists and environmentalists, gay and straight, young and old, rich and poor, employed and unemployed, of all national origins, racial, ethnic and cultural identities.  No one says it will be easy.

It takes a long time to make history.  “Faith-rooted moral battles do not advance on schedules that make sense to us,” he writes partially as explanation for his title : The Third Reconstruction.  The First Reconstruction followed the Civil War emancipation of four million enslaved people, new constitutional guarantees of equal protection and full citizenship rights including voting. The Second Reconstruction defines the civil rights era when federal laws (1964, 1965, 1968) were enacted to bring these constrevdrbarberitutional guarantees (13th, 14th, 15th)  to life. One hundred years later. And we are still counting and being counted.

Resistance is our confirmation. We have enemies and they are powerful.  Extremist reactionary measures and violence rolled back  gains in economic and racial pr
ogress of the first two Reconstructions.  Barber delights in reminding us that the the “good news” of the bible  “ends not with Jesus taking Jerusalem through a popular uprising”  but his execution as an enemy of the state.  Two thousand years later and the world’s bequeathed from Rome and Israel measure calendar time by the date of that execution! Nonviolent civil disobedience in the face of similar dangers, he exhorts,  “is a tool to demonstrate our capacity for struggle” tomorrow and over the long haul of the Third Reconstruction.

“Cause and Consequence”

Bronterre O’Brien (1805 – 1864) was an Irish Chartist leader, reformer and journalist. Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform in Britain. It took its name from the People’s Charter of 1838 and was a national protest movement. Support for the movement was at its highest in the 1840s, when petitions for universal male suffrage signed by millions of working people were presented to the House of Commons.

“Knaves will tell you that it is because you have no property, you are unrepresented. I tell you on the contrary, it is because you are unrepresented that  you have no property. Your poverty is the result not the cause of your being unrepresented!”   Bronterre O’Brien  

O’Brien’s powerful rhetorical untangling of cause and consequence in matters “political” and “economic” were featured instructively by the historians who, following EP Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class (1963) crafted a  “new social history” from the voices of those at the bottom looking up.  Thompson’s wife Dorothy and his student Gareth Stedman-Jones did most to bring us Chartist O’Brien’s calls to clarity and action.

Pleased to see this kind analysis alive in a recent LA Times piece.

“Economic inequality is the cause and the consequence of our racial problems”
July 11, 2016 Michael Hiltzik LA Times




“I will fight hard to defeat Trump and elect Clinton…

….but I will do so by trying my best to help people take stock of where we are and what’s wrong with it, and by arguing why electing Clinton will give us our best chance to pursue meaningful changes, including some that she does not support — not by cheerleading for the status quo and papering over the very serious underlying problems of our economy and society. Our politics must be big enough to wrestle with contradictions and accommodate analysis that gives depth to our moral appeals for solidarity.”

My old friend from 1199 New England Paul Kumar said this, very informally, on Facebook around the time of the DNConvention this summer. Clear and gripping stuff like this can be counted on from Paul.  I took note of it, and have read and listened to much more of the discourse and debate– from the passionless lesser evilism endorsed by Chomsky, swing state vote swapping strategy of half committed Greenish Jill Stein folk, fully bonkers Bernie bro paranoia of Clintonistas, to the delusional Chris Hedges “heighten the contradictions” fantasies that a President Trump administration would spark the popular leftism we most surely need.
Paul (now in the Bay Area working as Political Director of Save the Bay) no one has said it better, Thanks!