The Rev. William Barber II announced last week that he will step down as president of the North Carolina NAACP and lead a new national initiative that aims to end poverty and begin what Barber calls “a national moral revival.” This new Poor People’s Campaign will pick up where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. left off 50 years ago when he turned his focus to uniting poor people across lines of race and geography and pushing their priorities onto the federal agenda.
The campaign, which launches in partnership the Kairos Center at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, will bring together organizations with a longstanding commitment to confronting poverty and inequality—local and national groups such as Picture the Homeless in New York and the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization. Barber said a task force made up of poor people and economists, theologians, and other experts will in September release a report called “The Souls of Poor Folks” that will lay out the campaign’s agenda.
Much of the action will kick off next year, when the campaign plans to stage nonviolent direct action in 25 state capitols and Washington, DC, Barber said Monday at an event at the Davie Street Presbyterian Church in Raleigh. The states chosen represent the worst of the nation’s current political climate: Their governors refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Their legislatures have passed voter-suppression laws in recent years. They lack living-wage laws and employment and housing protections for LGBTQ people.
“Extremism is at work in other states and has gained power in all three branches of our federal government, much as it did here four years ago,” Barber said Monday in North Carolina. “We know that the way to change the nation is to nationalize state movements. We have to do it with a state-up model.”
Barber came to national attention in the spring of 2013, when the Moral Mondays movement emerged under his leadership and brought a summer of effective civil disobedience to North Carolina’s statehouse. That effort came in response to a tide of reactionary legislation passed after the legislature and governorship were taken over by Republicans intent on undoing North Carolina’s longstanding reputation as a politically moderate Southern state. More than 900 Moral Mondays protesters were arrested during that spring and summer, and Republican Governor Pat McCrory’s poll numbers plummeted as the actions gained steam.