Rev. Dr. William Barber talking:
the first Reconstruction in the 1800s, black and whites worked together after slavery, fundamentally changed the South. And then you had this massive reaction to turn back all of those policies, which actually came to the—its strongest point with the selection of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877, who was a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote but won—was selected through the electoral process, with the promise that he would restore the white hierarchy, if you will, in the country by his appointments and by his changing the Supreme Court.
Then the second Reconstruction was the civil rights movement. You had all of the massive changes—the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the War on Poverty—in 1954 to ’68. But then you have a reaction called the Southern strategy, led by Kevin Phillips and Richard Nixon, law and order. Richard Nixon claimed he would bring—Kevin Phillips, excuse me, told him, “If you find out who hates who and who fears who, we can pit people against one another in the South, and we can rule the South for 50 years.” And you know if you rule the South, if you can control the South, you control 171 electoral votes, by just controlling the former 13 Confederate states. You control 26 senators in the United States Senate, which means you only need 25 from the other 37 states. You control 31 percent of the United States House of Representatives, which means you only need 20 from the other 37 states. And you control 13 governors and 13 general assemblies, that control state boards of election. So, if you break through that, then you have fundamentally changed politics.
I believe all of the pushback we’re seeing—the voter suppression, the redistricting—is because the extremists see the possibility of a third Reconstruction. They know that if we register 30 percent of the African-American voter, unregistered voters, in the South, and if we add to that whites and progressive whites and Latinos, you will have changed the South. And if you ever change that map and you ever gave deep down organizing that gets people to stop voting against their own interests, grown-up conversations about race and economics, and people begin to see themselves as allies, blacks and whites, and no longer fear one another, then you have a third Reconstruction. I think we’re in the birth pangs of it. North Carolina is one of the places that points to it. Virginia is one of the places that points to it. The closing gaps that we’re seeing—when you look at Trump, he didn’t win the South by the gaps that Ronald Reagan did. And if we have deep down organizing in the South, we can have—we can push this third Reconstruction to full adulthood. I really believe that.
populism could be a—once was a lynch mob in the South. And Trump has engaged in a certain kind of nativism and populism. But fusion politics grows out of—it was named during the first Reconstruction, when black former slaves and white farmers, poor people, became allies in the South and saw their common interests. And so, when you have fusion, when you hold economic—race and economics together—I’m concerned, for instance, about the way some progressives are talking about this election. They keep talking about just an economic fix, or we just need to talk to white working poor people. But if you do not factor in race and how, as Nell Painter said at Princeton, the—you would not have a Trump without an Obama, that President Obama’s election represented a kind of inversion of a hierarchy in this country. And so, what we have to wrestle with is what caused, for instance, many whites to vote for a candidate that actually says—and there are 8 million more white people that are poor than black, but they vote for a candidate that’s against living wages. What causes many whites to vote for a candidate who says, “I’m going to cut your healthcare,” when 80 percent of the people who will lose their healthcare are persons that do not have a college degree, and 56 percent of them are white? What trumps common sense? That’s the grown-up race policy question.
Now, if you can bridge that in a fusion, and if you can get black people and white people and Latinos to begin to see their issues together, if you can get people, for instance, the LGBT community, to understand the same people against the LGBT community are the same people that vote against public education, the same people that vote against public education normally vote against healthcare, same people against healthcare vote against living wages—and you can go on and on—same people against living wages are normally against voting rights, and in the states, if you can build a from-the-bottom-up, indigenously led, fusion coalition, you can have the kind of transformation we’re beginning to see in North Carolina in the South.
for me, racism is not the KKK or David Dukes or calling somebody the N-word. It’s policy. It’s systemic racism. So, for instance, Ryan and McConnell and Boehner have held up fixing the Voting Rights Act for over a thousand days, almost over 1,200 days, since June 25th, 2013, when the Supreme Court passed this ill-fated decision in Shelby. Strom Thurmond only filibustered the Civil Rights Act of ’57 for a day, 24 hours. These people have held up fixing Voting Rights Act Section 4, so that Section 5 can be implemented in states like North Carolina, for over 1,200 days. They’re afraid. They are afraid of this possibility of us organizing all of America.
And I think that that’s the same thing you see here. This Legislature now has been told twice, by the highest courts, “You are racist. You have engaged in racist voter suppression and racist gerrymandering.” They know they cannot win without this. For instance, what they did when they redistricted, they put 49 percent of black voters into 19 out of 50 Senate districts, and they put 51 percent of black voters into 27 out of 120 House seats. They did that to isolate, stack and pack the black vote, not just to disallow or keep black people from being elected, but to keep black and white people from forming fusion coalitions to elect progressive candidates. That’s what the game was. And all of that is falling apart now, every bit of it. And they see it falling apart in their face. And we have to understand what is at stake here.
And none of it, lastly, would have been possible if we had Section 5 preclearance. If Section 5 preclearance was in place—and the people in the Congress understand this—none of these laws that have been passed in the South would have been able to have been passed. And without them—and I think the story, Amy and others, that we have not talked about is, people talk about this election. Ari Berman says we’ve had almost 900 less voting sites in the black community in this election than we had in 2012. It could have impacted more than a million African-American voters. And we did not have one discussion in our national debates, candidates for president, about voting rights and racism as it relates to voting rights. That was a tremendous error during this campaign.
Rev. Dr. William Barber
president of Repairers of the Breach and head of the North Carolina NAACP.
— source democracynow.org