This reflection was written in response to the Winter 2015 immersion course during which we traveled to North Carolina to join the Historic Thousands on Jones Street Moral March and learn from the North Carolina NAACP and the Forward Together Movement.
There were a great many things about the trip to North Carolina which I found very rewarding and reassuring. The one thing that stuck in my mind is the fact that both at the March and at our symposium following the March there was a distinct lack of vilification of anyone (except perhaps the North Carolina assembly but I will return to that in a moment).
It seems safe to say that isms are generally bad things. Racism, sexism, fascism, fundamentalism, communism, and the list goes on. But there’s one ism that seems to be okay, particularly here at Union, that is classism. By this I mean the tendency to vilify the rich.
But there really is no such thing as the rich anymore than there is such a thing as the feminists, the blacks, the gays, etc. I cringe when I hear someone refer to Republicans as fascists, or try and lay blame for the ills of society at the feet of white men (white patriarchal society). This may make the speaker or the group feel a little better for a while but it does nothing to really solve the problem. To me it’s reminiscent of what happened in World War II. We (Americans) rounded up all of the people of Japanese descent in America without regard for when they came here, there citizenship status, or any actions they had taken or not taken, and place them in internment camps because they “looked like the enemy”. I wonder if the people who call republicans facists, or talk about he “soul-sucking greedy pigs on Wall Street” would round them all up if they could, since after all, they look like the enemy.
At the march and rally, and at our symposium the crowd was incredibly diverse it was diverse across race, it was diverse across gender, it appeared to be diverse across sexual orientation, it was diverse across age and it was probably diverse across political affiliation.
What I saw on our trip was what is fundamentally good about people and an illustration of what we as Christians should be thinking and doing. Poverty is wrong, particularly wrong in a time/place (here I am speaking of America, although this is probably true for the entire planet) when there is no reason why anyone needs be living in poverty. A $7.50 minimum wage is wrong given that we live in a time in which no one can actually live on $7.50 per hour wage. [But to be honest I am as guilty as many people of contributing to the problem by shopping at Walmart, eating at McDonald’s, and doing the things in our daily lives which create an abundance of these low-paying jobs such that there is no pressure on business to raise those salaries out of economic need (as it does seem clear that the number of companies who will make tough decisions based solely on moral principles is very small). It is hard to make a case that isn’t primarily based on morality that raising the minimum wage is an imperative thing to do today in America. But we know it is and the people at the march know it is and it’s our job as leaders, as Christians, as ministers, as human beings to try and address these issues and bring about change.
But to do this we need everyone to come to the table. I have heard Rev. Barber speak before and knew him to be a great speaker. The symposium was an opportunity to hear him speak about a variety of issues and questions and I was so impressed by the clear way in which he never fell back on vilifying anyone.
His story of traveling to western North Carolina was particularly illustrative and inspiring. Having grown up in the Northeast it never occurred to me that there would be white people who are members (and officers) of the NAACP. And an even bigger surprise, it appears that white people created the chapters in Western North Carolina and those chapters are apparently largely composed of white people.
I saw numerous opportunities for Rev. Barber to respond to a question by blaming someone, but he wouldn’t fall back to that. Rev Martin Luther King’s message rings out today in Rev. Barber’s words and deeds, if we allow race (and I believe class) to divide us, we will never become an effective political force for change.
The trip to Raleigh, and the symposium after the march gave me renewed hope that we can address these problems by persevering and demonstrating to those in power that these issues are not racial, not geographical, not political, they are human.
Author’s Note: Vilifying the NC Assembly is not the same as vilifying “republicans”, or “democrats”, or “the rich”, or “the poor”. The members of the NC Assembly have publicly declared their position on these issues. It is also a waste of time to bemoan how the republicans took over by means of severely gerrymandered districting. Since the term was coined, the party in power when the district lines are drawn has drawn them to their advantage. The lesson to be learned from this is that one of the most important efforts that can be made to fix this is to get out the vote. If a state enacts voting laws that are intended to make it harder for the marginalized to vote, then not only should we march in the streets to protest that, but we should also work directly with these marginalized populations to help them exercise their right to vote. Maybe we have to help them get an ID, maybe we have to help them navigate complex voter registration forms and requirements, I don’t know, but I do know that the best way to solve this problem is to, as they used to say in Boston, “throw the bums out”, and you do that through the power of the vote. And even more importantly, we, who are not marginalized, who are not troubled by voter id laws, and registration complexities must get out and vote. The 2014 mid-term elections had the lowest voter turnout in 70 years. 36.4% of eligible voters cast their ballots. Turnout declined in California, New York, and New Jersey. Turnout increased by 3.8% (to 40.7%) in North Carolina. If you want to let the “enemy” take over it’s easy, just don’t bother to vote. I wonder just how many people who marched with us in Raleigh were doing penance for their failure to prevent the problem from happening in the first place by failing to cast their ballot.