When I mention Moral Mondays to secular friends, few have heard of it. In faith-based circles, Rev. William Barber has inspired thousands, but, at least on the surface, he hasn’t ignited a national movement. I say “on the surface” because much could be brewing below the headlines and offline.
There’s little to disagree with here. Yes, our fates are linked, our causes related. Yes, we have to claim our founding myths, the ones that support community and “a sharing of life’s glories.” Some have compared Barber’s organizing approach to that of Saul Alinsky, who urged people to pick a winnable issue on which they could agree. Barber knows that not all issues are immediately winnable, yet we have a moral imperative to take them on.
As a socialist, I was struck by the emphasis on moral suasion rather than practicality and economic analysis. The latter makes sense in a country where “socialist,” until Bernie Sanders’s campaign, was not a word taken seriously by the mainstream. Barber confronts the conundrum of the left in the United States—Is the key issue race or class?—and says that both have equal weight. He acknowledges Martin Luther King’s debt to socialist and communist advisers without naming King’s own democratic socialism. He treats sexism tangentially. Above all, he stays on message: We’re here for the long haul. This is a moral movement. We are warp and woof of the same fabric.
For us on the left, two challenges to his Third Reconstruction are also rooted in American myths. The first myth is that religion and politics don’t mix. The second is that when the going gets rough, we can always “light out for the territories,” that is, move on rather than dig in.
Many liberal religionists worry about losing their tax exemption or are overwhelmed by the day-to-day work of ministering to society’s outcasts. And many secular leftists mistrust religion so much that they ignore their natural allies.
On the secular side, too many activists become discouraged when their efforts don’t bring immediate change. They “tried” activism, and it didn’t “work.” In the land of quick fixes, who will stay for the long game?
People of faith know a lot about the long game. The secular left knows a lot about connecting the dots of race, class and sexism. Let us pray that both will heed Barber’s vision.