An excerpt from Rev. William Barber’s address presented before the 74th Union for Reform Judaism Biennial convention on December 6, 2017.
We are here tonight, and 62 years ago would have been the fifth day of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Today, when the prophetic actions of Rosa Parks like Shiphra and Puah in the Bible, chose to challenge the Pharaoh of Jim Crow. She sat down and birthed a movement on a stage that produced a prophet like Moses named Martin. She sparked a nonviolent revolution.
Today, 50 years ago would be two days after Dr. King, a Jewish Federation and 25 others, including Caesar Chavez, called for a Poor People’s Campaign that would address racism, poverty and militarism, because they all recognized that they had to be in their time part of a great tradition calling on America to mend every flaw, that they had to have a moral breakthrough.
They saw that patriotism is far more than blind allegiance. They understood faith had to be deeply rooted in the moral principles of justice, love, mercy, care for the stranger, and concern for life, as the highest value. They knew that America, like every nation, needed prophets rather than priests for the empire if a nation is ever going to repent and mend every flaw, if the nation’s successes are ultimately going to be noble and divine.
My brothers and my sisters, the American project has never been easy. It’s always required moral discernment and dissent and, yes, at times, moral disruption of the forces of injustice.
Here we are once again in what Princeton Professor Nell Painter calls the call and response of American history. She says that this recent selection where a person gains the presidency through losing 3 million votes and openly running a campaign rooted in racism and fear and hate and xenophobia – she says as a scholar – it is the iconography of a too often familiar American reality, where we go through a period of moving forward, of mending flaws and ending inequality and injustice, and then there is a major push-back. This is not new. Don’t let anybody tell you that the moment we are in now in America is new. It may have new players, but it is as old, as American as apple pie.
But what is also as American as apple pie is those who believe in freedom and justice.
Those who refuse to give up on the power of love.
Those who realize that yes, this American project is hard! But we can never give up on the soul of this democracy.
We cannot give up on the call of freedom, the call of love, and the call of justice. Instead, as those before us, we must breakthrough the forces of regressionism with a moral movement of transformation. That is why yesterday, standing with impacted people, denominational leaders, Christian and Jewish and Muslim activists, we launched the Poor People’s Campaign, a national call for a moral revival, undergirded by the souls of poor folks co-auditing America since 1968, looking at where she is now since 1968 when it comes to systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation, the war on our economy and our too-often distorted moral narrative.