Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
The Reverend Dr. William Barber II marked the beginning of activities reflecting on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s call for a radical revolution in values in “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence.” On Sunday morning, April 2, Dr. Barber spoke at Riverside Church in New York City from the same pulpit where Dr. King stood to speak to Clergy and Laity Concerned.
Dr. Barber is no stranger to struggle. Pastor of the Greenleaf Christian Church, Disciples of Christ in Goldsboro, North Carolina he has become a leading voice in the Forward Together Moral Movement that carried out weekly protests against the repressive in actions of the North Carolina Assembly. Just last month he was in Flint helping to bring attention to the lack of progress by state officials in addressing the water crisis there.
Drawing on Dr. King’s theme that there comes a time when silence is a betrayal to all we value and love, Dr. Barber pressed that today “Silence is no longer an option.” “We must challenge what is going on now,” he said, with the understanding that while the situation is “dire,” it is “not new.” Rather, “Trumpism is as America as apple pie,” and “every stride toward freedom is met with the same backlash.” This is the “call and response of American history” where every “season of racial progress” has been met with a “response of the progress of racism.” If we understand this history we should know that “we cannot afford the luxury of pretending Trump is an historical aberration.” He is “merely a symptom.”
Barber explained that we are entering a Third Reconstruction, marked by growing inequality, intentional voter suppression, apartheid redistricting, lying and suppression of humanity. We have a war machine “out of control” in vain efforts to make us safe, while our “moral priorities are wrong.”
We are facing a great division where there are “those who see America as a community and those who want to keep everything for themselves.” This is a “moral deficit” that is supported by “early signs of fascism” including lying, cult worship, devaluing the press, increased nationalism, demands for unquestionable loyalty and growing nationalism.
So now people must speak. We must speak of love, of justice, and of mercy. We must again face the question, “Is America possible?”
Dr. Barber said he would, “Stick with love, strong, demanding love” that emerges as people come together in hope as “we dare to speak with our marching, our protest, our court cases, going to jail and a new non-violent army.”
Later that day more than 400 people gathered in Detroit at Central United Methodist Church to read the words of Dr. King. Responding to the Call from the National Council of Elders, people affirmed it is now “Our time to Break Silence.”
Throughout the week, across the city and across the country, similar gatherings will be held to reflect on our responsibilities at this most urgent moment.
The words of Dr. King inspire all of us to step forward, speak out, and turn to one another, “awakening a new spirit.” Our only hope today,” King said, “lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”