Nation readers are well acquainted with Dr. Rev. William Barber II, this magazine’s civil-rights correspondent, but most Americans have never heard of him. Last night was his coming-out party, when he brought down the house with an incredible speech at the DNC just an hour before Hillary Clinton took the stage.
As the leader of the North Carolina NAACP and the Moral Monday movement, Barber is leading a multi-racial and multi-issue struggle for racial and social justice that the South hasn’t seen since the 1960s. He’s been traveling the nation in recent months calling for a moral revival—similar to the “revolution of values” that Martin Luther King Jr. once preached—and he distilled that message in a barn-burning 10-minute speech last night.
Barber is one of the most gifted organizers and orators in the country today. As an organizer, he’s showed the power of civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action to mobilize a broad coalition against shameful policies like HB2 and the country’s worst voting restrictions in North Carolina. As an orator, he’s reclaimed the language of faith from bigots like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.
“In my heart, I’m troubled and I’m worried about the way faith is cynically used by some to serve hate, fear, racism, and greed,” Barber said last night. “Jesus, a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew, called us to preach good news to the poor, the broken, and the bruised and all those who are made to feel unaccepted.”
Most powerfully, he’s framed fights for dignity and social justice in moral, not partisan, terms. This was the key section of his speech:
I say to you tonight, there are some issues that are not left versus right, liberal versus conservative, they are right versus wrong. We need to embrace our deepest moral values and push for a revival of the heart of our democracy. When we fight to reinstate the power of the Voting Rights Act and to break interposition and the nullification of the current Congress, we in the South especially know that when we do that, we are reviving the heart of our democracy. When we fight for $15 and a union, and universal health care, and public education, and immigrant rights, and LGBTQ rights, we are reviving the heart of our democracy.