Barber to UAW: Trump a ‘symptom’ of white nationalist fears
Rev. Barber | UAW

DETROIT—Republican President Donald Trump’s racist stands, remarks and tweets are “just a symptom” of white nationalist fears – which have been going for decades – that “the other America” of “the rejected” is increasing in strength and will rise up to take back the country, the Rev. William Barber says.

In a stem-winding combination speech and sermon to the United Auto Workers convention in Detroit, the North Carolina pastor said that other America includes women, blacks, browns, Native Americans, Asians, LGBTQ people and – most important for the crowd – union members.

“Their fear is that if brown folk from Mexico hook up with black folks and union folks and progressive white folks, that’s changing the electorate” and “would change America.” That fear, he said “is racism.” It’s directed against “the rejected,” unionists included, who should mobilize to take the country back.

Barber got cheers when he pointed out the same right-wing forces that suppress minorities and deny their voting rights pass right-to-work laws, scheme to destroy unions and otherwise suppress workers.

So he called on the UAW and its members to join the New Poor People’s Campaign, and particularly its mass rally at the U.S. Capitol on June 23, at the end of the 40-day first phase of the drive. And he appealed to all the unionists to follow in the footsteps of someone he called “another union member, a Carpenter,” Christ.

“They told him he was rejected, too,” Barber said.

Several big unions, including the Steelworkers, AFSCME, the Communications Workers, the Teachers and the Service Employees, have already endorsed and actively back the drive. CWA President Chris Shelton was among more than 100 backers voluntarily arrested for peaceful resistance at the U.S. Supreme Court on June 12.

Shelton and the others knelt and prayed in the court’s plaza for the justices and against two recent High Court rulings. One lets states throw voters off the rolls, disenfranchising the poor, minorities and workers. The other forces workers into arbitration against firms, even despite labor law. Those arrested were held for 11 hours in a dirty cell, shackled hand and foot, he said.

The campaign will continue with the object of putting the eradication of poverty – along with allied ills of racism, xenophobia, the war economy, discrimination and denial of voting rights, among other things — atop the national agenda, Barber told the crowd on June 14.

Barber made many of those same points at a prior rally/press conference in front of the convention site, Cobo Center. That rally also focused on a local issue which is now turning into a statewide cause: The 4-year-old water crisis in nearby Flint, where lead in drinking water – introduced as a cost-saving measure by a water source switch the GOP-run state ordered in the majority-minority city – poisoned kids.

One UAW vice president, Cindy Estrada, spoke out with him. “Workers are vilified for collecting food stamps” when their firms pay minimum wages “while corporations make billions of dollars,” she told the rally crowd. “This isn’t just about the contracts we bargain, but about the world we live in.”

UAW delegates and guests applauded Barber’s calls for ending those ills, with one exception:  Only scattered clapping for his “war economy” criticism and call for cuts there.

Barber said the U.S. spends more than $600 billion on “war and militarism,” or 53 cents of every dollar of spending for domestic discretionary programs. Many UAW members work for firms that receive federal military contracts and subcontracts, such as making dashboards for F-150 fighters.

“And this administration wants to make it 63 cents,” he said, far more than what the feds spend on education and programs for the poor. With 143 million poor in the U.S., and the majority of them women, children and the disabled, the nation can do better than that, he said.

“It is a choice between corporate greed and glorifying war versus battling sickness and poverty.” And contrary to myth, Barber pointed ending poverty would benefit whites as well as minorities, “since there are 8 million to 9 million more white poor” than poor people from all other races combined.

Barber didn’t confine his criticism to the wealthy and the corporations. He also nudged white progressives who, after the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy 50 years ago, retreated into “silos” concentrating on specific issues.

They didn’t and don’t realize the issues of poverty, worker rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, militarism and voter suppression are all interconnected, he said. “We’ve got to get out of our silos and bring the rejected together,” he declared. “The answer lies inside the problem.”

And in the prior rally, Barber noted the opposition, and white nationalism, is just as rife in the states as in the federal government. The NPPC’s marches in Lansing, Michigan’s capital, have focused on the racist aspects of the water crisis. They include not just the lead in Flint’s water but also arbitrary cutoffs of water to families who fall behind in paying their bills. Most of those families are in Detroit and poor.

And as an Evangelical Protestant minister himself, Barber criticized – both in his speech and at the prior rally – Evangelical Protestant ministers “who ignore 2,000 sections” of the Old and New Testaments “in favor of two:” Those that approve discrimination, particularly against gays and lesbians.

Those pastors, he told UAW, believe being Christian means being anti-gay, anti-worker, anti-black, anti-brown, pro-military and pro-gun rights. “They’re folk like Franklin Graham” – Billy Graham’s son and successor – “who are anti-union and who said if you’re a progressive, you’re an atheist.”

“And they” – right-wing lawmakers backed by such preachers and business interests – “just passed a tax bill that takes $2 trillion from working people and gives it in tax cuts to the wealthy and the greedy.”

“You have to go all the way back to slavery to find that kind of transfer of wealth,” Barber said.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).