More of Us Than of Them

The Third Reconstruction, part 3

Groups that seem as disparate as the Sierra Club, the NAACP, the ACLU, the National Abortion Rights Action League, the coalition to stop gun violence, voting rights organizations, the Human Rights Campaign for LGBTQ, and Amnesty International are all working for healing what is at root the same wound: the impulse toward dominance.

No one has done more to bring these different orientations together into a single movement than William Barber. He explains how it got started:
“In December of 2006, we called a meeting of potential partners for this new coalition. Representatives of sixteen organizations showed up. We started with a blank sheet of butcher paper and asked each group to write the issue they were most concerned about. Then, on another sheet, we asked them to list the forces standing in the way of what their organization wanted. We learned something important at that first retreat: though our issues varied, we all recognized the same forces opposing us. What’s more, we saw something that we hadn’t had a space to talk about before: There were more of us than there were of them.” (The Third Reconstruction 50)
Yes, there are some differences. If you cherish diversity, then you have to be OK with disagreement. That’s how the forces of domination prevail – by turning anti-domination factions against each other. Yes, it’s true that Barber’s base in the Black Church is strong on civil rights, voting rights, education, and housing – and often less enthusiastic about LGBTQ equality.

In 2012, Barber’s coalition encountered an attempt to cripple his coalition by dividing it against itself. That year a group called the National Organization for Marriage got a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage on the North Carolina ballot. The National Organization for Marriage’s internal documents – eventually ordered released –
“revealed that their goal had little to do with morality. They had pitched this so-called ‘Amendment One’ as a way to split North Carolina’s growing black vote, pointing out that many African Americans were religious conservatives and would not support [same-sex] marriage. The way to split a moral movement, they said, is it get them arguing about morality.” (90)
What Barber recognized was the need to keep the focus on domination – the curtailment of freedom, the legalized discrimination, the codified hate. People who couldn’t see how it could be right for two women or two men to be married to each other could nevertheless see that the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom protected the right of every religious institution to discern together what God’s definition of marriage is. They could see that “Our First Amendment right entailed freedom from any government attempt to tell us what God says about marriage.” They could see that,
“In the end, it didn’t matter whether my faith tradition told me marriage was to be between one man and one woman; all of our faiths made clear that the codification of hate is never righteous. Legalized discrimination is never just. And a moral fusion movement cannot be divided by the fear-based tactics of so-called conservatives.”
Amendment One did pass in North Carolina, and stood for two years until struck down by the courts. But the campaign for Amendment One did not divide the fusion movement. Barber explains:
“We learned quickly, that once we were able to reframe the issue, people quickly grasped how the treatment of LGBTQ citizens was an issue of civil rights and human rights....Amendment One passed before we could get to all of North Carolina’s rural communities. But in the places where we were able to reframe the issue, the results were clear: voters in majority-black precincts in North Carolina’s five major cities rejected the amendment....It failed by a ratio of two to one on the African American side of Scotland Neck, a rural community in Halifax County, where our movement has established a strong base by organizing against environmental racism.” (92)
Another issue that you might think could divide the fusion coalition is women’s reproductive freedom. I was moved to read how Barber handled that:
“Now here were, standing together. I noted the pink shirts of Planned Parenthood members and recalled my early conversations with their president, Janet Colm. I’d told her that with our broad coalition we could not endorse abortion, so she asked, 'Can you support women’s rights and access to health care?' Absolutely, I told her, but I also needed something from her. Could she give us white women to speak up for a black woman’s right to vote? She said she’d do it herself. We went on a national talk show together. When the host asked Janet about Planned Parenthood, she said, ‘I’m actually here today to talk about voting rights.’ When she turned to me as a representative of the NAACP and asked about voting, I said, ‘I’m actually here today to talk about women’s rights and access to health care.'” This fusion coalition had brought us together, confusing old dividing lines and making more than one interviewer stutter as they tried to figure out new categories to name what was happening.” (108).
Diversity is our strength. The diversity has sometimes been turned against us to divide us. But we don’t have to let it. No, Barber’s defense of LGBTQ rights and of abortion rights is not as full-throated as mine would be, but I’m not going to let that stand in the way of supporting as much as I can the Moral Mondays campaign – and also supporting Planned Parenthood and LGBTQ inclusion as much as I can in ways that go further than Moral Mondays alone does.

We need not think alike to love alike. Our differences won’t divide us if we stay focused on opposing the domination strategy that engenders all of these injustices.

So here’s my ask. I ask you to get this book: William Barber, The Third Reconstruction. I ask you to read it. And then let’s talk about it. I ask you to come on Thu Apr 20 – Fellowship Hall – 7:30. Let’s talk about what we learned, and what we can do about it together.

Let’s do this because there is no peace for our spirits when our country’s policies increase domination and inequality and cruelty. Let’s do this because a faith institution concerned with healing spirits must address the social causes that wound our spirits. Let’s do this because when we see the one wound that underlies all the different justice issues, and we join together against domination, then there are more of us than there are of them.

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This is part 3 of 3 of "The Third Reconstruction"
See also
Part 1: Truth, Hope, and America
Part 2: I Thought I'd be Saying...

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