PoliticsNC’s Person of the Year for 2013 is Rev. William Barber, President of the North Carolina NAACP and founder of the Moral Monday movement. Barber turned a few protesters into a statewide movement and brought the national spotlight onto North Carolina. Love him or hate him, his impact on North Carolina politics in 2013 was immense.
When the Moral Monday protests began, Democrats and the progressive community were reeling from the breathtaking sweep and scope of the Republican legislation coming down the pike. The Democrats in the legislature failed to garner any response and the state Democratic Party was in disarray. Barber provided a voice of opposition and a way for people to show their opposition and relieve their frustration with the new direction of the state.
Republicans initially dismissed the protestors as malcontents and Barber as a showman. Some complained that he was a race-baiter, but that’s a poor argument for the party that has embraced people who still wave the Confederate flag. Their criticism of Barber as showman has merit, but no more so than it does for any politician. Effective politics is often the combination of theater and policy. Barber melded the two well.
Democrats and progressives quickly rallied around Barber once the movement launched. However, Barber is not a party guy. He’s driven by ideology and agenda. His goal is to move the state in more progressive direction and will oppose anyone, regardless of party, who he perceives as interfering with his goals. In 2002, before he was NAACP president, Barber did radio ads on behalf of Republican Elizabeth Dole during her U. S. Senate campaign, not because of any love for Dole but because the Democratic Party, both nationally and at the state level, embraced Erskine Bowles in a primary that included former House Speaker Dan Blue, the first African-American speaker in a Southern state since Reconstruction.
If Democrats do return to power, Barber and his movement could become to Democrats what the Tea Party became to Republicans. But there’s a long way to go before Democrats see themselves in power again. For the time being, Barber is leading the loyal opposition.
Finally, 2014 could be a big year for Barber. Organizations from across the country are coming to North Carolina to learn under Barber. As the national NAACP searches for a replacement to retiring President Ben Jealous, Barber, with his national profile, must be in the running. So, Reverend William Barber is PoliticsNC’s Person of the Year for 2013.