There have been a flurry of stories trying to interpret the impact of Moral Monday protests and several have implied that they are a tool of the Democratic Party. That’s incorrect. The Moral Monday movement is an issue-based campaign that has roots going back several years and led by a man, Rev. William Barber, who cares far less about political parties than he does about political action.
To fully appreciate Moral Mondays, you need to understand Barber. Barber is an activist. He may also be a showman, but he uses theatrics as a means to an ends and not an end in itself.
Barber has been around politics for years. He’s usually supported progressive Democratic candidates but not always.
In 2002, before he was head of the NAACP, Barber supported Dan Blue’s candidacy for the open U.S. Senate seat. The Democratic establishment, both here and in Washington, got behind the self-funding Erskine Bowles. Barber felt that the establishment walked away from the former house speaker, in part, because he was black. Bowles handily won the primary, which was held in September, and Barber cut radio ads supporting Elizabeth Dole. For Barber, Blue’s candidacy and his ads were about shaking up the status quo and forcing Democrats to take African-Americans seriously instead of just depending on them for their votes.
It’s a theme that flows through his career. He became head of the NAACP by unseating Skip Alston of Greensboro. Barber believed the civil rights organization had become complacent and ineffective. He ran on a platform of returning it to its activists roots.
When he won, he did just that. He launched the Historic of Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) rallies shortly after he took over the NAACP. The goal was to promote a 14-point progressive political agenda that the Democrats, who were in power, were largely ignoring. The rallies began small and have grown every year since. The Moral Monday movement is an outgrowth of those rallies.
Barber certainly wants to see the current crop of legislators defeated but, ultimately, he wants to see his agenda enacted. Getting rid the Republican leaders in Raleigh is just part of the process. If somehow, the GOP loses control of the legislature this year, next year, he’ll be protesting Democrats if they oppose his plan.
And that’s the difference between Barber and elected politicians. Barber has a long-term view. He believes that the issues he’s promoting are part of the long arc of history that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said bends toward justice. Unlike politicians, he’s not constrained by an election cycle and he won’t be limited by the success or failure of one political party or the other.
Moral Mondays are not a tool of the Democratic Party. They are part of the long-term strategy of William Barber. Barber and the party may share goals today, but if Democrats ever gain power, they will almost certainly diverge. The Democratic Party is, or should be, primarily concerned with electing political leaders. William Barber is focused on changing society. The two are rarely the same.
Right now, the Democratic Party may be without a leader, but it’s certainly not William Barber.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >