Rev. Barber: McConnell brings ‘Southern justice’ to U.S. Senate
Poor People’s campaign website

WASHINGTON—The Poor People’s campaign, which is gearing up for another mass march on Washington this coming June 20, is non-partisan, its founder and co-chair, the Rev. William Barber, says.

It’s also non-political, in the sense that it doesn’t endorse politicians of any stripe, or invite them to speak at its events from coast to coast. That’s even though, Barber pointed out in a speech in D.C., the evening of Jan. 29, it must work with them to achieve its goals.

And one of its biggest goals, he told a packed house at Calvary United Methodist Church that night, is racial justice – and not the type of “Southern justice” African Americans suffered in the era of Jim Crow, in the years of the civil rights movement and even afterwards.

That “Southern justice,” Barber said, was racist from bottom to top, from rank-and-file whites through police departments, DAs and sheriffs and on up to legislatures and governors.

It was shot through with conspiracies and coverups to hide the truth about lynching, mob rule, the Klan, murders of African Americans and other outrages until the perpetrators were beyond the reach of the law, he said.

And then Barber dropped his bomb. He told the crowd “Southern justice” coverups and conspiracies have been revived in the U.S. Senate by GOP leader Mitch McConnell for the impeachment trial of GOP President Donald Trump.

“On Wednesday of last week, before the House (impeachment) managers began their opening statements, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stood at his desk and conferred with” Trump’s White House counsel. “The acquittal Trump had demanded of Senate Republicans was all but assured.”

“The corruption makes me shudder,” Barber added. “The coordinated coverup as 53 (Republican) senators is deeply disturbing to anyone who knows the history of Southern courthouses, where their prosecutors and jurors conspired” to convict African Americans.

“What does this mean?…If perpetrators were protected, we’ve seen this before. And Mitch McConnell is bringing Southern justice to the U.S. Senate.”

“If a crime was committed to rig the next election, it was covered up,” Barber added.

And that’s not McConnell’s only coverup, the pastor stated. Another is the GOP leader’s refusal to let his colleagues even consider House-passed legislation to restore the teeth in the Voting Rights Act.

The five-man GOP-named majority on the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the act’s key Section 5 six years ago. Section 5 forced jurisdictions with histories of voter discrimination – including, but not limited to, the entire South – to get federal “preclearance” of any changes they wanted to make in voting rights, standards, polling places, district lines or any other move to disenfranchise people of color.

No sooner had the High Court majority tossed Section 5 than Barber’s native North Carolina, plus Texas, immediately enacted strict “voter ID” laws and other measures to rob the vote from anyone who might oppose those states’ ruling Republicans. Other GOP-run states followed.

“And Mitch McConnell covered up those voter suppression efforts that pushed him into the majority” in the Senate by disenfranchising voters. They “let him cover up,” Barber said.

“The cost of the coverup is democracy itself.”

“When people in power can choose” their ways “to stay in power, we do not have full democracy. We have minority rule and ‘Southern justice.’”

But the way to overcome such coverups, Barber and other speakers said, is the “moral movements” of the majority that can shine a spotlight on such coverups, reveal them, and force their demise. That’s what the civil rights movement did, he said. That’s what the FBI did in 1964 in investigating the infamous murder of three civil rights workers in Neshoba, Miss. The bodies of young civil rights workers James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were buried in a dam.

“These are movements of people committed to the truth who uncovered the lies. The present demands nothing less.”

That’s a big reason the Poor People’s Campaign is on a preliminary tour nationwide. The drive has already taken it to the Pacific Coast, Illinois, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Michigan, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine and, on Jan. 29, downtown D.C.

There, before the meeting in the church, the crowd marched five blocks to the sanctuary. Their constant “What do we want?” chants were answered with the words “Justice” “Peace” “Housing” “Voting Rights” “Immigrant Rights” and, one time at the end of the parade, “Workers’ Rights.” The second line: “When do we want it? Now!” was always the same.

And inside the church, a video of the Poor People’s Campaign and its causes and platform brought huge applause from the packed house many times.

One big round of cheers came for raising the minimum wage, another occurred for a 50% cut in military spending with the dollars diverted to domestic programs. Still more applause came for denying “easy access to firearms.”

And the crowd cheered when NPPC co-founder Rev. Liz Theoharis – who preceded Barber to the church podium – appeared on the screen calling for “immediate implementation of state and local living wages” and for “the right of all workers to form a union.”


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 tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.