I’ve always believed that leaders rise to meet the times. FDR became the face of hope in the Great Depression. John F. Kennedy inspired a generation of baby boomers to challenge convention. And Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., personified the Civil Rights Movement.
In North Carolina, the people disturbed over the direction the General Assembly is taking the state may have found their leader. NAACP President Rev. William Barber is leading a growing, diverse movement of people who have decided they are not going stand idly by while the GOP destroys North Carolina’s reputation as an enlightened and progressive state. Since the Republicans have effectively shut down voices of dissent within the legislature, the protesters are following Barber to jail and drawing attention to the GOP carnage along the way.
While Democrats are bickering at the State Party Headquarters and their legislative leaders are throwing up their hands in frustration, Barber is rallying the troops. The protests might not derail the GOP agenda, but they are giving activists a sense of purpose and attracting new supporters at a steady pace. For progressives, it’s the impetus they need to get back in the fight again.
Since their devastating losses in November, Democrats and progressives have been looking for their next Jim Hunt to lead them out of the wilderness. Maybe what they need first is a William Barber. Barber has been on the political scene for the last 20 years, but his loyalty is to ideals and values, not a political party. From Barber, they can learn to turn cynicism into idealism and frustration into action.
For the protests to have a lasting impact on the political environment they must continue to grow. But if Barber and his forces can maintain the momentum, this is the movement that can spawn the next generation of progressive leaders. They will be shaped by the power of conviction, instead of the desire for power.
Regardless, at least some one is starting to fight.