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They listen to a fiery speech denouncing the Republican majority's legislative actions. They sing freedom songs and chant civil rights slogans.Â Then they march two by two into the legislative building to be handcuffed by police and arrested for failing to obey orders to disperse.
Leading them in this weekly rite of nonviolent civil disobedience is the Rev. William J. Barber II, president of the state's NAACP chapter. Since assuming the state presidency eight years ago, he has waged numerous battles challenging local and state governments to extend educational opportunities, broaden the voting base, provide health care and more generally lift up the poor.
At a time when the country is becoming less religious and liberal politicians shy away from faith-based rhetoric, this Disciples of Christ minister, steeped in the activist traditions of the black church, has emerged as a galvanizing force in North Carolina's pushback against the Republican-dominated legislature.
And with his bearlike stature and thundery oratory, he has towered over his secular political counterparts.
Over the course of nearly two months, he has prodded 480 North Carolinians to get arrested during weekly "Moral Monday" demonstrations. At Monday's (June 24) demonstration, Barber expected nearly 300 more at what is billed "Mass Moral Monday."
"He communicates the message of the South with a power I had heard only in recordings of Dr. Martin Luther King," said Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, a Christian writer and activist in Durham who has known the preacher since he was in high school.
With Barber steering the opposition to cuts in unemployment benefits, health care funding, voting rights and environment regulations, the movement has taken on the feel of a church revival. Each demonstration begins with a call to join hands and pray. Barber's speech is inflected with biblical references to Pharaoh, Goliath, good and evil. Then there are the folksy civil rights refrains: "Woke up this morning with my mind set on justice," and "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around."
With his photo in the newspapers and on TV, the 49-year-old Barber has become as well known as Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican leaders of the House and Senate.
At a Durham coffee shop last week, web developer Jim McManus walked up to Barber to say, "Thank you for all you're doing with Moral Monday."
"I'm really alarmed at what's happening," said McManus, of Durham. Barber encouraged his visitor to attend Moral Mondays and stop by and say hello.
Source: Washington Post | Yonat Shimron| Religion News Service