“Now I know some of you all are not Christian, and I’m cool with that,” the Rev. William Barber II tells the rapt crowd. They laugh. “Some of you all don’t even believe… But can I be a preacher for one minute?”
He inhales deeply and bellows a call to the audience, and they echo it back.
It’s our time!
It’s justice time!
Are you ready?
Barber, of Goldsboro, NC, is the head of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and, since 2013, a leader of the state’s “Moral Mondays” protests—organized civil disobedience, led by religious progressives, to combat voter suppression, anti-LGBT legislation, and cuts to social-programs.
As part of Rigged, Fusion’s documentary investigation into partisan gerrymandering and electioneering, reporter Natasha Del Toro interviewed Barber on the state of play in 2016. It’s not great, he says.
“The greatest harm to people now is not what’s happening in the United States Congress, ‘cause they aren’t passing anything,” he says. “It’s what’s happening in these state legislatures. It’s what’s happening in these Southern state legislatures, and what the governors are doing.”
In North Carolina—a fiercely fought battleground that Barack Obama won in 2008, but narrowly lost in 2012—state conservatives, led by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, placed severe limits on voting hours and acceptable voter IDs—restrictions that were found unconstitutional by a federal appeals court in July because they targeted minority voters.
Barber says those efforts were just one part of an agenda of “interlocking oppression” of minorities and poor whites by conservatives.
“The point of suppressing the vote is to elect extremist candidates who cannot get elected in a full hearing of the electorate,” he says. “They know that their agenda doesn’t work, for the most part, with a full electorate. So if you suppress the vote, you suppress the progressive agenda.”
Sizable, audible, and charismatic, Barber has spent the 2016 election cycle exhorting North Carolinians to use their voting power for change.
“If you’re concerned about Black Lives Matter, and you’re concerned about police that are out of order, well, how do sheriffs become sheriffs? The get elected,” he says. “How do we get Stand Your Ground laws? People vote and pass those laws. If you’re concerned about health care, that’s a policy issue, if you’re concerned about the kind of money you have to pay for college loans, if you’re concerned about that, you have to be engaged in voting and protecting the right to vote.”
As Fusion’s “Rigged” investigation shows, the institutional and cultural voter-suppression techniques Barber alludes to have a long and sordid history. They affect congressional representation, but also local law-enforcement attitudes toward minorities. Electioneers’ techniques are vastly improved by new data technology.
Just this week, senior staff in Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign confirmed that their path to victory includes strategies to reduce turnout among groups who might favor his opponent. That’s according to reporters Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg at Bloomberg:
To compensate for this, Trump’s campaign has devised another strategy, which, not surprisingly, is negative. Instead of expanding the electorate, Bannon and his team are trying to shrink it. “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” says a senior official. They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans.
While what the operatives describe as “voter suppression” is more of an effort to disillusion left-leaning would-be voters with targeted negative ads, the effect feeds Barber’s theory of “interlocking oppression”: If you have no hope for change, you won’t work for change.