Editor’s note: Below we print excerpts from a column by Rev. William Barber, the leader of North Carolina’s Moral Monday Movement and the author of a new book, “The Third Reconstruction.”
On election night I felt a great sadness for America. While we face a dire situation, this is not new.
We faced it during Reconstruction, amid the wreckage of the Civil War.
The experiment of the First Reconstruction faced powerful and immoral opposition. Former Confederates organized the Ku Klux Klan. They said “we came to redeem America.” They used moral messages for immoral activity. By the turn of the century, all the gains had been overturned.
This same pattern repeated itself during America’s Second Reconstruction — the Civil Rights movement.
Inside this long, sad tale lies a road map for today. I believe we are witnessing the birth pangs of a Third Reconstruction.
But just as there’s been a Moral Movement in every era to raise dissent against extremism, we’ve seen in North Carolina what a 21st century Moral Fusion Movement can look like.
What have we learned?
First, we must build a movement from the bottom up. Helicopter leadership by so-called national leaders will not sustain a moral movement. The nation never changes from Washington, D.C. down. It changes from Selma up, from Birmingham up, from Greensboro up.
Secondly, we need to use moral language, like the devotees of the First and Second Reconstructions. A moral movement claims higher ground than a partisan debate. We have to begin to re-frame the conversation.
There would have been no abolition movement without William Lloyd Garrison and other people of deep faith. Without strong voices from the social gospel movement, there may have never been a New Deal. There would have been no Civil Rights Movement without the moral framework. There would not have been a critique on poverty and unchecked capitalism, labor rights, health care, criminal justice reform, climate change, and raising the minimum wage, without a moral premise underneath it.
Finally, we must insist on connecting economic issues with our racial history. Yes, Trump appealed to real economic fears among working people, blowing the dog whistles of race to divide poor and working people. Any resistance to Trump that doesn’t address his divide-and-conquer tactics cannot offer a real political alternative.
We need a moral movement to revive the heart of American democracy and build a Third Reconstruction for our time.