By now, many North Carolinians know where to find Rev. William J. Barber on Mondays while the state Legislature is in session. But on Sundays, the preacher can still be found testifying before his devoted congregation in a modest church in Goldsboro.
His impassioned sermons serve as sprawling B-sides to the more polished studio albums of his speeches at the Moral Monday and Historic Thousands on Jones Street demonstrations.
This past Sunday, as the movement he worked years to build prepared to return for the General Assembly short session, Barber discussed the nature of true spiritual power: “Power that causes the faithful to move in confidence, power that confuses conventional thinking.”
His hour-long sermon wove in references as far-reaching as Nietzsche, Gandhi, Thoreau, William Lloyd Garrison, the Campaign in Birmingham, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and Psalm 72. At the end of the sermon, Barber shouted over a free jazz performance that would have made Albert Ayler proud, doing a little dance:
I’m not telling you this to try to scare you
But when you die
All that’s really gonna happen
Is they’re gonna throw your body in a hole
And cover it up with dirt
I’m not telling you this to scare you
But to warn you from the throne of God
On that day …
Tell every president
Tell every political leader
Tell everybody you know
On that day
All your titles
They won’t matter
All your positions
They won’t matter
All that will matter
On that day
Is your testimony
What you did with your power
Reverend Barber preaching at his church in Goldsboro. Video by Aaron Lake Smith.
Republicans in the state Legislature have made it more difficult for the movement to proclaim their dissent. Last Thursday, the esoteric Legislative Services Commission, which had not met in 15 years, abruptly convened to update the rules of the General Assembly.
This seemed conspicuously timed for Moral Monday’s resurrection. Some of the cases from the 945 questionable arrests in the legislature last year are only now making their way through Superior Court.
The new building rules, which took effect immediately, contain explicit language stating citizens cannot “disturb” or make an “imminent disturbance.” A “disturbance” is defined as a noise or talking “loud enough to impair others’ ability to conduct a conversation in a normal tone of voice.” This includes “singing, clapping, shouting.”
These new rules essentially codify GA protocol over the last year. However, they can be applied to selectively prosecute Moral Monday protestors.
“There are dozens and dozens of left-wing advocacy groups here in North Carolina,” said Brian Balfour, director of policy and operations at the conservative CIVITAS institute. “Most of them are involved in the coalition and involved in these protests … we think they’re not really representative of the majority of people in North Carolina.
This past Monday, Barber and the NAACP responded to the rules at a news conference: Todayand this is the only time we’re going to do this, Barber declared, we’re going to put a piece of tape over our mouths to show the nation what democracy would look like if Thom Tillis was in charge.
Building to a crescendo, he hit his stride:
We know what Dr. King said in 1968silence is betrayal. We will not betray the poor. We will not betray our children. We will not betray the sick. We will not betray labor rights. We will not betray the LGBT community. We will not betray the immigrant. We will not betray women. We will not betray our forebears and foremothers and fathers. We will not betray our future. You get one time for us to show you how crazy that is, and after that, it’s over baby!
The protesters’ applause and shouting filled the downtown church. After the uproar died down, Barber added, “If I was in church, I would tell you, we get that example from Jesus. He gave Caesar and Herod one time and one time only.”
Barber and NAACP members walked from First Baptist Church to the state Capitol and attempted to enter, carrying bread that they hoped to break with Gov. Pat McCrory, whose office is inside. Barber, leading the crowd, was turned away by a security guard.
The movement continued to Bicentennial Plaza where a crowd of about 1,000 gathered around the platform.
The crowdmade up of all ages, religions, races and backgroundsseemed as broad a coalition as one could hope for. Barber and other spiritual leaders spoke and then broke bread together in a “love feast” to symbolize a more egalitarian, more human-scaled economy.
Then the marchers taped their mouths shut, and marched two-by-two into the Legislative Building, up the red steps, around the rotunda, and out to the Halifax Mall, where they ripped off the tape and shouted so the legislators could hear them. No one was arrested.
Protesters plan to return to the General Assembly for the “People’s Lobby,” an act of civil disobedience. Since the Legislature will not convene on Memorial Day, Monday, May 26, the “People’s Lobby” will be held on Tuesday, May 27, at 9 a.m. in the Legislative building.
This article appeared in print with the headline “Spiritual warfare”