Rev. Dr. William Barber II says North Carolina is on trial.
“I come by here to say to all those that wield political power, you’re on trial; you face the judgement of God,” declared Barber, the president of the North Carolina State Conference of NAACP Branches. “North Carolina is on trial; this state is on trial, right here and right now.”
Barber addressed a crowd of NAACP members and supporters during the Winston-Salem Branch’s Freedom Fund Dinner on April 26. The annual gathering drew nearly 300 attendees to Mount Zion Baptist Church last week.
“This is a great event on behalf of the oldest, the boldest, the toughest, the strongest civil rights organization in the world: the NAACP,” declared local NAACP President S. Wayne Patterson, noting that 33 people had joined the local branch that evening. “Truly, this is a glorious occasion.”
Mayor Allen Joines and Mayor Pro Tempore Vivian Burke praised the local chapter and the NAACP for its contributions to the ongoing struggle for justice and equality.
“Thank you for the work that you do, not only in Forsyth County, but supporting efforts across the state, and Lord knows we need help,” Joines, a Democrat, said, referencing the work of the Republican supermajority at the state level. “I’m so glad that the NAACP is with us in trying to keep the heat and the light on this thing.”
Burke told the crowd to stand strong in the face of adversity.
“This too shall pass if you have confidence and faith in God,” she remarked. “It’s not new that some other folks have been in a position to make decisions for us … but we know those things will not keep us from moving forward because we serve a mighty God who will move things forward when He is ready.”
Barber said federal and state leaders will face the wrath of God if they continue to instate policies that are harmful to their constituents.
He used both his biblical and political roots in an impassioned address imploring those present to hold their government, and themselves, accountable, quoting from Micah 6:8, which reads: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
“God says, ‘What have I done to you, Israel, to make you do the injustices that you do?’ Sometimes, it seems like I hear God saying that to America – ‘What have I done to you?’” Barber related. “America must know and North Carolina must know that God still puts governments on trial.”
Barber railed against the parade of legislation that has been passed by the state’s GOP supermajority in their first 50 days in office, taking exception to voter ID laws and cuts in unemployment, Medicaid and public education funding.
“In 15 minutes in the early session, they cut 500,000 people from Medicaid because they hate Barack Obama,” Barber said. “On January 1, 2014, 500,000 will not be allowed Medicaid, the poorest among us.”
Barber told the audience that North Carolina’s actions have the power to cause reverberations across the US.
“North Carolina is the center focus of the nation,” Barber said. “So goes North Carolina, so goes the South; so goes the South, so goes the rest of the nation.”
Barber said current legislators’ policies bear a striking resemblance to the tactics that were carried out under Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy, which he says was designed “to cause white people to vote against their own interests” in the South.
“This group here, they want to be the George Wallace of the 21st Century,” Barber boomed, referencing the infamous former Alabama governor who was known for his mantra, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.” “They’re engaging in a shameful display of political tyranny and the arrogance of power … In the first 50 days, they have negatively impacted nearly 30 percent of the state.”
Barber rattled off bill after bill that he says will hurt North Carolinians, from rolling back the Racial Justice Act to preventing ex-offenders to vote for five years after their sentences are complete and requiring them to get approval from their local Boards of Election in order to have their rights reinstated. The current legislature is giving tax cuts to the wealthy, while slashing publicly-funded programs and advocating for policies – such as private school tuition vouchers and allowing payday lenders to charge clients as much as 300 percent interest – that Barber believes will only increase racial and socioeconomic disparities and worsen conditions for everyone in the state.
“Here’s their public policy in a nutshell,” he said. “…Give tax cuts to the wealthy, tell the poor to be more responsible and help themselves, you cut public education, you cut healthcare, you cut voting rights and you give people more guns. That’s how you have a better state.”
Though the organization has been accused in the past of being racially or politically biased, Barber said it stands, always, on the side of justice.
“We don’t hate them, we hate their policies,” he said of NC legislators. “I pray that if enough conscience hits them, some of them will change.”
Barber offered words of encouragement, telling audience members that their struggle is not in vain.
“People don’t fight you like this if you’re weak. The evidence of your power is how much they are coming against the things that we stand for. They fear your strength, but more importantly, they fear that if you get the power, you might just help somebody along the way,” he declared.
In order to save the state and its people, the NAACP and people of every color and creed must come together and fight for justice, Barber said.
“God not only is this nation on trial, God also tries those that ought to be speaking (up) and won’t. We in the NAACP can never forget this: we cannot become a professional civil rights organization rather than a provocative instrument of justice, because if we do, we stand under the will and judgement of God,” he said. “This is not a time for the NAACP to be unclear about its critique of what’s going on in society. If a policy is racist, call it that. If a call is mean-spirited, call it that … you’ve got to call it if something is wrong… We too are on trial, and how we stand up in this moment will render the verdict of whether our lives have been pleasing to God.”
The organization awarded college scholarships to 10 worthy students and bestowed its Lifetime Community Service Award upon former State Rep. Larry Womble, whom Pattersondescribed as Winston-Salem’s own “drum major for justice.” Womble, who is still recovering from a 2012 car accident, was hospitalized and unable to attend the ceremony in person.