Thursday, February 23, 2012

Statement Read by NC NAACP President at the Announcement of the Second Leg of the Truth and Hope Tour of Poverty in NC

This statement was read by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II at the announcement of the second leg of the Truth and Hope Tour of Poverty in NC. The tour will take place in Pitt, Wayne, Sampson/Duplin and Pender Counties on Friday, March 2nd and New Hanover, Brunswick, Robeson and Cumberland Counties on Saturday, March 3rd.  Exact times and locations will be released this weekend after listening sessions are conducted in each of the communities this week.
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WE HAVE A SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE POOR:

Announcing the 2nd Leg of the Truth and Hope Tour

Statement

by

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, President of NC NAACP

FEBRUARY 22, 2012

(DURHAM) Today we announce the Second Leg of the Truth and Hope Tour, Putting a Face on Poverty in North Carolina.  We will continue to raise the question, every way we can:  Where will the problem of systemic and structural poverty be in the political discourse this year?  Will we just read the dreadful statistics?   Will we see the faces of the children and their families?  If we see the faces, will we work to find creative ways to address the challenge?  Will any candidates talk about it?  Will anyone make it a key part of their political campaigning? We talk about the wealthy. We talk about the middle class. But there is an eerie silence regarding the poor, and we intend to change that.  

Last night I was in Wilmington, listening to practitioners who work among the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the jobless. I heard about certified nursing assistants living in homeless shelters.  And then I heard about a homeless shelter that was kept from opening its doors because of public political pressure. I heard of gross actions of environmental racism in a town that poisoned 600 acres of land. I heard about families who still use outdoor toilets, because they can't afford to hook on to water and sewer systems.  I heard about restricted covenants signed in 1938 by the McCall family that still impact economic development today.  The only way these race and class based acts toward the poor ever get public exposure is to shine the light of truth on them. 

            The Judeo-Christian faiths are built on a strong foundation. Beware of policies that hurt the poor.   The Old Testament calls out: 

Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees,  to deprive the poor of their rights  and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.

And the New Testament responds clearly:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

          The Good News is the news of systemic transformation for those who have been made poor by the breaches and brokenness of our society's structure.  The Good News is these ancient Judeo-Christian values are enshrined in our State Constitution: You must govern for the good of the whole.  These values represent the first principles of our state.  They provide the over-arching vision of the work of our Government.  We must, therefore, always ask: Are decisions made by those who would govern us made for the good of the whole?   Or are they being made for the good of a small set of special interests?   The NAACP has had a special interest for 102 years.  We are interested in the poor.

Individual charity alone will not address this problem.  The moral requirement of our Constitution and the moral underpinnings of the Biblical truths require more than a call to private charity.  They require a call to structural change and systemic reorientation.  Our second leg of the Tour of Truth and Hope will take activists, academics, and economists, to the places of poverty.  (Our first leg has created a surge of media and political discussion about the entrenched poverty in the Northeast quadrant.)  We realize that the media, and the politicians, do not pay much attention to those who live in poverty.  People who cannot come to the General Assembly on Jones Street. People who may never have an opportunity to sit at the table of public policy or in the boardrooms of private businesses.  People who have been essentially silenced in our public and political dialogue.

This problem of poverty did not just begin in 2008, when the Republicans were in the White House.  Nor did it just begin when the Democrats were in the White House in 2009.  No. Over 44 year ago, Dr. King begged us to look at it honestly.  He said America needed a Stimulus Plan 44 years ago! Dr. King's stimulus plan called for a "bottom-up" approach, not a "banker-down" approach. Wall Street cannot drive a society based on Justice. Capitalism cannot be driven crazy by greed.  If we ignore the poor, if we ignore those on the bottom, there will eventually be an implosion!

In fact we have been talking about this whole economic crisis wrong. The fact is, we've had a Silent Depression that has caught up with us. A political economist at the University of Maryland said, "What we're really beginning to experience," in a article called America Beyond Capitalism, "Is a process of slow decay, punctuated by a recurring economic crisis, one in which reforms achieve sporadic gains. But the long term trends of growing inequality, economic dislocation, failing democratic accountability, deepening poverty, ecological degradation, greater invasions of liberty and growing imprisonment especially of minorities, continues to slowly and quietly challenge the belief in the capacities and moral integrity of the overall system and its governing elite."

MIT Professor Otto Scharmer said, "There is a blind spot in American economic theory today...Our refusal to have an economic theory that looks and sees that we are all integrated, we all really need each other."

Dr. Martin Luther King said 40 years ago when you ignore the poor, one day the whole system will collapse and implode.  So on this Ash Wednesday we are reminded of the summons of Joel 2: "Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain!"

There were 40 million poor people without health care before the crisis got public attention. There were 50-100 million people under-insured. There were millions and millions of people out of work.  Almost 20% of African-Americans were jobless BEFORE the crisis was public. Millions of poor children!  More than 52% of African-Americans who qualified for stable, low-rate loans, were illegally steered to predatory sub-prime loans before CNN discovered the crisis. More families across the state are falling into poverty and facing hardship. Last year, North Carolina's poverty rate-17.5 percent-was the highest it has been since 1981.  Poverty in North Carolina grew by 22 percent over the course of the Great Recession. The median household income in North Carolina dropped 12.3% since 2007. During the Great Recession, approximately 300,000 jobs were lost in North Carolina while the state's workforce continued to grow. As of November 2011, the jobs deficit in North Carolina stood at more than half of a million.

We will tour the Cape Fear River Valley during our Second Leg.  Pitt, Wayne, Sampson/Duplin, Pender New Hanover, Brunswick, Robeson and Cumberland Counties.  This is the southern half of the North Carolina Black Belt, where my ancestors helped liberate themselves from slavery, fighting with Abraham Galloway's Colored Brigades. And then, instead of getting 40 acres and a mule, got tricked into signing sharecropping contracts that immediately re-enslaved them.  But tens of thousands of free men and free women joined Mr. Lincoln's Republican Party, moved to the larger cities in the area we are touring, and built grassroots fusion movements with white farmers and small land-owners and businessmen in Wilmington, and Fayetteville and Goldsboro, and other growing urban areas.  For a brief period in the 1890's, they won both houses of the General Assembly, the Governorship, both US Senate seats and many county court houses. 

The former slave owners and their corporate allies, frightened by this initial effort to heal the breach, implemented a plan of homegrown terrorism in Wilmington, and other parts of southeastern NC.  Murdering scores of Black men on the streets of Wilmington, the largest city in the State, in November 1898, they engineered the only coup d'├ętat in the United States. Thousands of African Americans and their white allies were traumatized by this divide and conquer tactics of the extremist and racist right-wing.  People were rousted from their beds, and were helped to get out of town and try to re-establish their lives in the poorest counties in the Southeast.  Hoke County is the home of the Leandro case, picked because 20 years ago it was one of the poorest counties in the State and still is. Native Americans and their African American brothers and cousins in Robeson County had a majority, but white folk created four school systems, to divide and conquer there.  And then we will end this leg of the tour Fayetteville, where military investment has never fully enforced Title VI's mandate to dismantle racism. 

So we need to get behind the data.  The data needs to be disaggregated with historical analysis, with rural-urban analysis, with Black, Native American, Latin American and European American analysis.  How were the poor people of the area divided?  How were they conquered?  Especially since the present Speaker in the People's House called on his constituents to develop a divide and conquer politics in North Carolina.

We will not put up with being divided.  We are a special interest group.  We have a special interest in God's Human Race.  We have seen it divided.  We are Repairers of the Breach.  All God's Children are Precious.  They are all Special.  And we have a special interest in them.  We are fresh off bringing over ten thousand diverse peoples to Raleigh ten days ago.  We are fresh off talking with national media about the First Leg of our Truth and Hope Tour.

This problem is complex. It has many faces that we must dare to see if we're going to dream and have a hopeful vision to do better.  Maybe then we can develop a Marshall-type plan for North Carolina and model a progressive agenda for the nation. 

We will make the poor visible and lift the silence that surrounds this region.  We will challenge those who make unjust laws, those who issue oppressive decrees.  We will protest those who deprive the poor of their rights.  And we will never turn back.  We will shine the light of truth on our sisters and brothers of all races and creeds, who have been the victims of those who issue their oppressive decrees.    Forward Together, Not One Step Back.

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Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.

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