America is now at the “most critical time, between life and death”


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Source: Salon

Rev. William Barber begins leading the march from Union Station to Capitol Hill in support of the pending voters Rights legislation.

By Phil Pasquini/Shutterstock

 

The Republican Party is currently trying to inject lethal poison into America’s body politic in a systematic effort to prevent Black and brown people, and other core Democratic constituencies, from voting. It has become clear that today’s Republicans actively view majoritarian democracy as their enemy. It is no exaggeration to say that fascism, white identity politics and white supremacy are being deployed to create a 21st-century American apartheid.

In fact, the Republican goal goes beyond entrenched minority rule by whites. More specifically, it envisions a nation dominated by a white male plutocracy in which Christian nationalism and authoritarianism are protected by law and where property will always be valued above human rights and human dignity. Resistance and other forms of dissent will de facto become illegal. In this context, “centrist” Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin must be seen as collaborators in the Republican assault on democracy.

It is also true that the Republican Party is poisoning American society through its willful negligence regarding the coronavirus pandemic, which has now killed at least 670,000 people in the United States. While the Biden administration has done a remarkable job in promoting vaccines and other efforts to defeat the pandemic, its efforts are being systematically sabotaged by its political opponents. It is now estimated that at least one of every 500 Americans has died of COVID-19, and public health experts agree that a large proportion of those deaths could have been prevented.

COVID has been especially devastating for Black people, Latinos and Native Americans, as well as older people and those with disabilities or pre-existing illness. In total, the American people have lost many millions of years of life because of this plague.

If American democracy were a patient, its current status would be critical and unstable. To heal and recover will require more than treating the evident symptoms, but also confronting the deeper ailments that afflict our nation.

To discuss those questions and much more, I recently spoke with the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president and senior lecturer at Repairers of the Breach. He is also the architect of the Forward Together Moral Movement, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and author of several books, including his most recent, “We Are Called to Be a Movement.” He is a frequent guest on CNN, ABC and MSNBC as well as Democracy Now! His essays and other writing have been featured in leading publications, including the Washington Post and the New York Times.

If American democracy were a patient, its current status would be critical and unstable. To heal and recover will require more than treating the evident symptoms, but also confronting the deeper ailments that afflict our nation.

To discuss those questions and much more, I recently spoke with the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president and senior lecturer at Repairers of the Breach. He is also the architect of the Forward Together Moral Movement, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and author of several books, including his most recent, “We Are Called to Be a Movement.” He is a frequent guest on CNN, ABC and MSNBC as well as Democracy Now! His essays and other writing have been featured in leading publications, including the Washington Post and the New York Times.

This conversation has been edited, as usual, for length and clarity.  

People are feeling exhausted by the Republican Party’s torrent of attacks on democracy and society. What would you tell those folks about staying motivated and fighting off despair?

As you know, the infamous Dred Scott ruling deemed that a Black man has no rights that a white man ever has to respect. Frederick Douglass was asked two months after that to speak to an abolitionist group. People were depressed and not sure of what to do next. Frederick Douglass didn’t lie. He said, this is bad, this is monstrous. Douglass also said, the courts are against us, the magistrates are against us. But that is just one side of the story. Douglass continued, saying that every attempt to stop the abolitionist movement has only served to embolden and intensify our agitation. The fight is not off, the fight is on.

Right now, what I see too much of is an unwillingness to fight, a type of acceptance of the situation. I was asked on “Morning Joe,” what if I go to West Virginia and push Sen. Manchin, and we lose the next election there? I responded, “Why do you all start with, ‘What if you lose?’” What if you inspire the hundreds of thousands of poor, low-wealth people in that state who are not voting? Have you seen how many of those voters there are in West Virginia? If you got those low-wealth, low-income voters, the Democrats could get a marginal victory.

It’s not impossible to do, but you can’t move them if you don’t at least fight for fundamental things. For example, fighting for the $15 living wage, There has to be a return by the Democrats to a fundamental understanding that there are some things which are bigger than just the latest poll number. We must fight and win.

Jim and Jane Crow were not vanquished. Those demons are being summoned up and empowered by the Republican Party and their war on democracy, and specifically on Black and brown people’s voting rights and human rights. If one lacks a historical perspective, this seems insurmountable. How do you reconcile the past and the present in terms of these struggles of justice?

First of all, we should have never suggested that if you get rid of Trump then you get rid of the problem. Donald Trump was not the problem; he was the symptom. Trump was the beneficiary of the Southern strategy, which was launched some 50 years ago by the Republicans. They decided that the way to win is to intentionally divide the country by making the Republican Party the party of white people who were angry about the victories of the civil rights movement.

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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