As was discussed in this space a couple of years back when the Moral Mondays movement was center stage, there are few things that the political right in North Carolina loves more than bashing the Rev. William Barber. No matter what Barber actually says or how eloquent and insightful he is or how many personal sacrifices he makes or how many near-24 hour days he puts in in service of the causes of peaceful change and human rights, you can rest assured that uninformed blowhards will employ every tool in the character assassination toolbox to smear him and cue all of the worst racist dog whistles.
This is especially true when, as was the case last week in Charlotte, large numbers of people of color are in motion and demanding change. What’s more, this phenomenon is not just confined to fringe bloggers and Internet trolls. Supposedly responsible voices with actual paid jobs and offices engage in this kind of shameless behavior too.
Take, for example, state Republican Party executive director, Dallas Woodhouse. As Colin Campbell of Raleigh’s News & Observer reported last week in a story about Congressman Robert Pittenger’s remarkable comment that protesters in Charlotte “hate white people”:
“The N.C. Republican Party did not immediately respond to an inquiry about Pittenger’s remarks. Earlier in the day, NCGOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse issued a news release blaming NAACP leader William Barber for ‘encouraging violence’ when he demanded the release of police videos showing the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.
‘We are highly concerned that William Barbers (sic) demand for the police video to be released “by nightfall” is a threat to citizens in Charlotte,’ Woodhouse wrote. ‘The statement appears to be encouraging violence, if Barber’s unreasonable demands are not met.’”
You got that? Even though countless elected officials of both parties, most major newspapers and numerous advocacy groups were calling for release of the videos for days prior to their actual release, Woodhouse chose to attack Barber and imply, falsely, that he was somehow “encouraging violence” by making the same, reasonable demand.
Never mind that Barber has spoken repeatedly and passionately (in Charlotte and elsewhere) in favor of peaceful protest and that he has dedicated his life to nonviolence. Never mind that even Gov. McCrory personally and cordially thanked Barber last week for doing so during a chance encounter at a TV station.
No, for cynical opportunists like Woodhouse, the temptation to play to the fears and stereotypes of conservative white North Carolinians by attacking a large African-American man with a powerful voice proved simply irresistible.
Another cheap shot from Pope-Civitas
Of course, with Woodhouse, one can at least chalk up the hateful comments to partisan politics. It’s his job, after all, to get people out to vote for his candidates no matter what scurrilous tactic it takes.
When it comes to groups like the supposedly nonpartisan Pope-Civitas Institute, such excuses aren’t available. Sadly, however, that hasn’t stopped the group from lobbing repeated stink bombs Barber’s way. Three years ago, the group started attacking Barber and other Moral Monday advocates by claiming they were doing what they were doing to line their own pockets.
Now this week, they are using Barber’s visibility in and around the Charlotte tragedy and the ensuing protests to rehash their scurrilous and dishonest aspersions. This is from a new Pope-Civitas article:
“NC NAACP President William Barber has popped into the news again, as he tries to do whenever TV cameras are turned on. We thought this was a good time to bring up a few relevant facts about the Rev. Barber.
He loves to excoriate the establishment – but it seems to slip his mind that he and his cronies profit big time from the establishment.
For instance, a Goldsboro-based organization headed by Barber received nearly $350,000 of your tax dollars in the 2015 fiscal year, according to this Civitas article.
And that’s just a small part of what his left-wing allies raked in. Barber headed up the “Moral Monday” protests, but as a Civitas investigation learned, that movement would be more accurately called “Money Monday.” Groups linked to Moral Mondays pulled in more than $100 million in state funding over the course of several years, until Civitas pointed it out and lawmakers at least slowed down the gravy train, if not halted it altogether.
He and the NAACP also receive generous funding from George Soros, the billionaire financier who backs so many left-wing groups, according to a news report.”
As was pointed out in this space in 2013, such an attack is hogwash of the lowest order:
“To imply that Rev. William Barber – a courageous man who works night and day at enormous personal sacrifice, physical pain and even personal risk; a man who directs a tiny paid staff and who has, for years, tirelessly traveled the length and breadth of the state in an old minivan to help countless underdog causes – is doing what he is doing in order to advance his own personal financial agenda, is just so utterly wrong and, for lack of a better word, malicious that it must render any fair-minded observer virtually speechless.”
It’s also just plain stupid. By such “logic,” the Pope-Civitas people are lining their own pockets by accepting funding from conservative financier Art Pope to do their jobs or by helping to direct public funds to any number of causes (e.g. for profit charter schools) that they favor.
But wait, it gets worse. The article goes on to make the following utterly inane statement:
“Note too a paradox: though Barber condemns violence by police, he at the same time calls for political solutions – without recognizing that political solutions are, ultimately, enforced by armed police or soldiers.”
Say what? Opposition to police violence means the same as supporting it?
But, of course, we probably shouldn’t be surprised by such delusionary attacks. When one’s political and economic philosophy is built around the guiding premise that greed and utterly unfettered trickledown capitalism are good things, it’s no doubt tough to grasp the fact that others might be motivated in their life’s work by something higher (or that enacting health care for all isn’t the equivalent of imposing a police state).
What’s really going on
Fortunately, there are good reasons that Rev. Barber is, increasingly, a national voice for moral renewal in our country and that lame attacks by the likes of Woodhouse and Pope-Civitas fall so flat. Barber reminded us of this last Friday in a fine New York Times op-ed entitled “Why We Are Protesting in Charlotte.” As he noted in conclusion and in response to those who would seek to use the unrest in Charlotte as an excuse to reject calls for progressive change:
“We have seen this before. After the civil rights movement pushed this nation to face its institutionalized racism, we made significant efforts to address inequality through the war on poverty. We did not lose that war because we lacked resources or met insurmountable obstacles. We lost it because Richard M. Nixon’s ‘Southern strategy’ played on white fears about black power by promising to “restore order” without addressing the root causes of unrest.
In the Scriptures, the prophet Jeremiah denounces false prophets for crying ‘peace, peace when there is no peace.’ We cannot condemn the violence of a small minority of protesters without also condemning the overwhelming violence that millions suffer every day.
Instead, let’s look again at the vast, diverse majority of the protesters. This is what democracy looks like. We cannot let politicians use the protests as an excuse to back reactionary ‘law and order’ measures. Instead, we must march and vote together for policies that will lift up the whole and ensure the justice that makes true peace possible.”
What’s more, there are also signs that the efforts to reprise Nixon’s dark and cynical strategy to deny the grievances of poor people and people of color across the nation aren’t working. Even Gov. McCrory seemed to recognize the futility and injustice of such a strategy in recent days as he has eschewed the opportunity to demagogue on the Charlotte situation.
Late yesterday, Barber and the NAACP released a set of demands in the aftermath of the Charlotte shooting that will undoubtedly provoke new howls of outrage from conservative partisans in the near term. The bet here however is that, in the long run, Barber and his demands will last a lot longer and go a lot further than his carping critics.