The Choice is Ours

DEM 2016 ConventionDay 34 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message—of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

From Rev. William Barber II (photo above) in an interview with Religion Dispatches

Be open to the Spirit moving us in new ways. Recently I was in New York City to receive an award from a philanthropist. After I’d received the award, this 90 year-old elder’s son invited me to walk to where his dad was seated as he has some difficulty walking these days. But he insisted upon getting up and grabbed my hand with great passion. “I’m so glad to be giving my money this year to a Movement that I know is making a difference,” he said.

Sure, we must make the best plans we can. But I think every funder wants what that man wants. When we started the HKonJ People’s Assembly Coalition in North Carolina ten years ago, we didn’t have any money. In so many ways, that was a gift. We started with 14 groups (we now have over 200). Our lack of resources forced us to come together and focus on the gift of one another. We learned to be nimble and quick. We figured out what worked, and we kept doing it because it was bringing us closer to what we all wanted.

We say to every funder, “Give not so we can do something but so we can keep doing.” It’s a different ask. A Movement is afoot. Even now, I’m joining Jim Forbes on a Moral Revival tour across the nation. We have a vision, and we believe the provision will come. We don’t have money; we have a mandate. The nation’s soul is at stake. People are dying, and we know we must show a way beyond the limited left/right debate that is too puny for the times in which we live and the future we desire.

If I could say one thing to funders, I’d say, “We must invest in a Movement, not a moment! We need an indigenously led, state-based, state-government focused, deeply moral, deeply constitutional, anti-racist, anti-poverty, pro-justice, pro-labor, transformative fusion movement. We need transformative fusion coalitions where relationships with coalition partners are transformative, not transactional, because we understand the connectivity between the issues that each partner focuses on and embrace them as our own. We must build relationships that are long-term, not based on one issue or campaign. The greatest myth of our times is that extreme policies only hurt a small subset of people, such as people of color or the poor. These policies harm us all.

I’d say this: Think long term. Don’t worry about short-term victories. Don’t just fund electoral strategies; fund transformational movements. Let’s not forget that’s what Charles Koch decided to do in the 1970s. In many ways, it worked.

This is the most forgotten admonition of Dr. King’s dream. What did he say to the people who came together for the March on Washington? He said, “Go home!” Go back to Georgia and Mississippi, to North Carolina and Tennessee. Go home and build a Movement that can change this nation. That’s a strategic plan for progressive foundations: Fund people and organizations that are building the movement that looks like the America we want to be. You may not get there with them, but we will get there if we keep moving forward together, not one step back.

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