An episode of Slate’s Amicus podcast in which Dahlia Lithwick interviews the Reverend William Barber. She asks a very poignant question and receives an even more poignant response from the Rev. about being tired. I’ll let them finish:
DAHLIA: Reverend Barber I have one last question, and I think I want to ask it because I get so much mail from people who say, “I’m tired. I’m tired of the tweets. I’m tired of the lying. I’m tired of my job being to track all of this craziness and I think we’re losing.” You have just relaunched, as you said, Dr. King’s “Poor People’s Campaign”, folks are getting arrested on the streets again. What do you tell our listeners who are just beginning to think the rule of law has slipped away and that we are on some kind of 24-hour crazy reality show of lawless norm-erosion, and they don’t know what to do. What do you tell them? What’s the answer? How do you both keep aware of what’s going on and be educated and engaged, but also keep your sanity when it feels as though this program may never, ever end?
REV. BARBER: Well I would tell them first of all to go to www.breachrepairers.org and look at some of the testimonies of the people who are fighting back. Or to the www.poorpeoplescampaign.org, people who are fighting back.
And I would say, before you want to quit, talk to the sister I met in Washington State who lived in a homeless camp in Grays Harbor who came to a mass meeting and said, “I am the white trash that America threw out but forgot to burn, I’m joining the Poor People’s Campaign.”
Or go with me to the two coal miners in Harlan, Kentucky, one black and one white, who told me the real story about what has happened to them, and how the union was undermined, and talk to them about why they’re joining the Poor People’s Campaign — one with black lung and says because of that, that’s the reason he can never stop fighting against racism and against those that would block healthcare.
Or meet Callie Greer from Alabama whose daughter died in her arms because the Alabama governor and legislature refused to expand medicaid. She’s on the front lines saying, “We have to turn our pain into power. We have to cry until we are heard.”
Or go and meet another lady I met who was jipped by predatory lenders in the South, forced to pay $120,000 for a single-wide trailer that is now falling apart and full of mold. Her child, and 11-year-old, has now developed breathing disorders from the mold and has to wear a CPAP machine. She herself is disabled. But she said, “I want you to come in my house and show America what poor people are going through, and I’m willing to join [the Poor People’s Campagin] and to fight back.”
Or meet the lady down in El Paso, the mother who had not seen her husband and children for 16 years. She fought with Border Control until she finally said to them, “Where is it that I can go and at least touch my husband without it being illegal?” And they said, “If you walk into the middle of the Rio Grande river from the United States side, and he walks from the Mexico side, we’ll give you three minutes in the middle of the river.” She led us into the river with garbage bags on our legs. We walked in there; we touched her husband and children she hadn’t seen 16 years. She’s organizing and committed.
I would first say you need to focus on the faces of the people who have not had to fight over the last year, but have had to fight a long time, communities which look like the Civil Rights movement never happened, the War on Poverty never happened.
Secondly, I would say you need to focus on the history that has brought us here. Sometimes you’re in a moment and you forget the moment’s behind you. Tired? What about the slaves that battled for 250 years. What about the abolitionists who were locked up, like William Llyod Garrison who was locked up in Boston for preaching the damnable gospel that all people are equal. Or Thoreau, who when he was asked if he would repent for his civil disobedience, he said, “The only thing I will repent of is for not asking sooner what devil possessed me so long to be quiet so long.” Think about the people who fought against lynching. Ida B. Wells oftentimes went and challenged lynchings with only 8 people. Remember that the Selma marchers and the civil rights movement didn’t start with a half a million people, but 50 people sometimes, 40 people sometimes. We have to focus on the history of the past in order to face the moment of the present.
And then lastly, for me, as a person of faith, I have to go deep into my faith that says the time to have moral dissent and moral action and moral activism is when the moments are the roughest. It is when it looks like the odds are against you that you have to stand up and speak out. We are in a moment of necessity, a moment that says — there’s a scripture that Dr. King used to use, Hebrews chapter 10, that says “We are not of those who shrink back unto destruction, but we are those who persevere under the salvation of the soul, for faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
I would say how can we not keep fighting, particularly when those who fought and won in the past, they had less than we have now. They didn’t have the radio station. They didn’t have the twitter, the email. They didn’t have the cell phones. They didn’t have the education. But they fought.
I was reading last night about Mr. Spies who was hung for fighting for an 8-hour work day in the 1800’s. He said when he was being hung, “You might try to put this out today, but there is a fire underneath. There is a subterranean fire of resistance that is bubbling up.”
My answer to people would be if we claim to be the children of Martin and Dorothy Day and Lerida Mart and all of the great freedom fighters, if we are their descendants, then standing down is not an option. We lose only when we get quiet. We lose only when we stop fighting. We must declare that somebody’s hurting the people and we will not be silent anymore. And that is why the time to be a movement is when a movements are necessary. And indeed moral movements — anti-racist, anti-poverty — deeply moral, deeply transformative moral movements are necessary right now, and there’s nobody else that’s gonna do it. All of our heroes are not getting up out of the grave, but they are cheering us from the balconies of Heaven, I believe, and saying it’s time for us to do our part.
I would rather die having tried and seen nothing change, than to live, not try, and see nothing change. The reality is this is the time we have to get a second wind, we have to gird up our strength, and we have to remember by focusing on the faces of today that are fighting, focusing on the histories and the battles of the past when people fought, and whatever gives you faith, it’s time to gird it up. Not for the Democratic Party, not for the Republican Party, but for the salvation and the soul of this democracy.