As Congress works to untangle its gridlocked legislative initiatives, Rev. Dr. William Barber II is taking the fight for social, economic and political justice to an international audience.
On Sunday, October 3rd, Rev. Dr. Barber joined other faith leaders and economists at the Vatican in Rome, home to the Catholic Pope. At the conference, titled “Caritas, Social Friendship, and the End of Poverty”, Pope Francis condemned greed and the “ruthless pursuit of profit” in a virtual message to attendees.
Rev. Dr. Barber is a co-chair of the U.S.-based national Poor People’s Campaign. He addressed the conference and gave a blueprint for how countries can utilize the word of God to push for economic justice around the world. It culminated a years-long push to revive the original Poor People’s Campaign organized by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
Rev. Dr. Barber II speaks at the Vatican
“Systemic poverty is not the cumulative result of individual failures. People in power have made choices and written those choices into tax policy, war policy, and government budgets,” Rev. Dr. Barber said at the conference.
“The extreme disparity between the one-tenth of 1 percent who have more money than they could ever spend and the half of the world that struggles to survive every day is the result of policy choices that the Bible condemns over and over as sin,” he added.
Since 2018, Barber and others have organized in all 50 states of the U.S. to call for a moral revival. In recent months, Barber has condemned moderate Democratic members of Congress for holding up key legislation such as voting rights protections, higher wages, and climate change-resistant infrastructure.
Particularly, moderate Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have come under fire for their refusal to support Democrats’ climate and social policy legislation within the more than $3 trillion reconciliation bill.
Reconciliation is a political maneuver in which bills in the Senate don’t need a 60-vote majority. It allows Democrats to avoid a filibuster, which happens when a legislator prolongs the passage of the bill to the point that it stalls.
Moderate Senators hold up key legislation due to price-tag
Democrats hold the House of Representatives by a slim majority. The Senate, however, is evenly divided with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. If all Democrats vote together, Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tie-breaking vote.
The two moderates, however, have balked at the price-tag for the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, which has caused divisions between the party’s progressive and moderate wings. While the Senate has passed a more than $1 trillion infrastructure bill, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is waiting to call a vote on it until the Senate comes to an agreement on the more than $3 trillion climate change and social policy legislation.
Moderates’ refusal to support the reconciliation bill as it stands reminds many of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous 1963 ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail.’
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom…”
Rev Dr. Barber II: Sen Joe Manchin is an “extremist”
In a recent interview with The Black Wall Street Times, Rev. Dr. Barber echoed Dr. King’s concerns, calling Sen. Manchin an “extremist”.
“He’s engaged in political malpractice every time he says he’s a so-called moderate. All moderate means is ‘I’m really an extremist but I’m too coward to say that,” Barber told The Black Wall Street Times.
“’So I claim to be a moderate. But at the end of the day I care more about treating corporations like people and people like things.’”
He also called for leaders like Pres. Biden, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Chuck Schumer to be more vocal and more visible in poor and low-income communities most affected by the inaction from moderate Senators.
“We cannot let one or two senators shut down the entire country.”
Poor People’s Campaign goes global
Turning to an international audience, Rev. Dr. Barber II is calling on nations to reject the economic philosophy of scarcity. He wants countries to embrace a system in which the rich are not hoarding wealth as hundreds of millions remain in poverty.
“It is an act of violence to let a child go hungry. It is an act of violence to deny quality healthcare or education to poor people. And when we allow policies that perpetuate this violence, we are sowing the seeds of war, mass migration and climate catastrophe,” Barber said at the Vatican.
He called on countries to implement a “third reconstruction” to combat the “interlocking injustices” of systemic poverty, racism, climate disaster, denial of health care and housing, a war economy, and religious nationalism.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a sign appeared indicating the non-stop pressure and direct action from Barber and others may be starting to have an effect.
Sen. Joe Manchin signaled he’d be open to negotiating down to a number closer to $2 trillion.
“I’m not ruling anything out,” Manchin told CNN.