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The Anti-MAGA Movement: Rev. William Barber's Quest to Make America Great, For Once

The reverend's Poor People's Campaign is working to build an America that is the exact opposite of Donald Trump's immoral white nationalist oligarchy.

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Rev. William Barber, speaking at voting rights rally, August 2, Washington, DC, Paul Becker/Repairers of the Breach (photo used with permission)

In DC Comics’ Bizarro World (also known as Htrae), cats chase dogs, jokes make people cry and the Bizarro Joker is the only sane person on the planet. If there exists a Bizarro version of Trump, he would be a smart, educated Black man who still has his hair, speaks in complete sentences and dedicated his life to paying taxes, fixing the law and uniting people of all races.

I think I know a guy.

Dr. Rev. William Barber is an activist, organizer and moral leader who serves as president of Repairers of the Breach and the co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. While Barber’s political and social activism stretches back more than four decades (when he was named as the president of his local NAACP’s youth council at the tender age of 15), he has gained recent prominence as the leader of a multiracial coalition positioned as the polar opposite of the MAGA movement created by Donald Trump. 

Instead of playing golf during an election-stealing campaign, Barber sat down with The Root after a Saturday march for voting rights in Austin, Texas, headlined by Willie Nelson (who could be considered the Bizarro Ted Nugent).

“I had worked with brother Nelson for years on the plight of poor farmers, Black and white, back in the day,” explained Barber. “But when we decided to march from, from Georgetown to Austin to nationalize Texas as a way of demanding several actions for all the other states, we didn’t contact him. We didn’t seek him out. He said ‘I just want to come and do whatever I can do.’

“That’s what a movement does,” Barber continued. “If you remember, you know, your number when they marched from Selma to Montgomery, people came. [Martin Luther] King didn’t seek them out. They just came. We had others that would have come if they could have, but we had to limit the number of people that could be monitored for COVID reasons.”

As he was headed to Washington, D.C., for his weekly Moral Mondaysdemonstration, Barber answered some of our most pointed questions, including: Does America have a race problem or is class inequality a bigger issue? Is this country’s biggest obstacle systemic racism or poverty? To repair American democracy, should we focus on voting rights or inequality?

For Barber, the answer to all of these questions is: “yes.”

While most MAGAmuffins are concerned with stopping Black people from voting, stoking white nationalism, transferring wealth to corporations, blocking universal healthcare and denying climate change, Barber is intent on building a movement based on what he calls the five interlocking injustices:

  1. Systemic racism
  2. Poverty and ecological devastation
  3. Denial of healthcare
  4. The war economy, and
  5. The false moral narrative of religious nationalism

Barber is careful to note that the Poor People’s Campaign sees systemic racism and class inequality as fruit that fell from the common tree of injustice. Therefore, his goal is to build a multiracial populist movement that can simultaneously address both issues.

“Race is not the father of racism,” explained Barber. “Racism is the father of race. The category of race was created to keep Black and white poor folk and low-wealth folk from coming together like they did in Bacon’s Rebellion to challenge the wealthy elite.

“Because we don’t separate race and class, we start with systemic racism,” he told The Root. “And while there are many forms of racism, we look at it through different lens. The first lens is voter suppression because voting is the bridge that leads to all the other policies. As Dr. King said, the goal of suppression has been to keep the masses of poor and low-wealth people—Black, brown and whites–from coming together and voting in a way that could change the economic architecture of the nation.”

Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign is named after the movement started by King before his untimely murder at the hands of a white supremacist. Just as King did, Barber has outlined specific policies with the goal of “ending poverty and low wealth from the bottom up.” Their immediate demands call for ending the filibuster, passing the For the People Act, restoring the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and instituting a $15 minimum wage. Barber reels off the statistics to support his class-based viewpoint, pointing out that, of the 144 million poorpeople in America before COVID, 66 million are white while 26 million are Black. 

“But the 26 million poor Black people are 60 percent of the Black population while 30 percent of white people are poor,” Barber added. “This is happening in a nation where none of this has to exist. We don’t have a lack of money. We don’t have a lack of ideas. We’ve got a lack of moral courage, and that’s why our movement connects these interlocking injustices that must be challenged with an intersectional response and a moral response that we call a Third Reconstruction.”

Barber’s Third Reconstruction would rebuild America for the poor and wealthy just as America did for white America during Reconstruction and the New Deal. To do this, Barber is calling on regular Americans from across the country to do a Bizarro version of Trump’s insurrection. He sees nonviolent direct action as the key to grabbing back the reins of power from white nationalists, wealthy corporations and people who believe they can overturn elections with bear spray, cattle prods and legalized voter suppression. His Moral Mondays have enlisted religious, community and political leaders who exclusively represent poor and low-wealth Americans to take direct action to make America great, for once.

Of course, the dream of a multiracial coalition wiping out inequality and poverty has been the goal of many leaders, from Fred Hampton to MLK. So why does Rev. Barber think it will work this time?

“We put down the violent insurrection on Jan. 6, but we’ve had, and continue to have, a kind of policy insurrection going on in these state capitals,” said Barber. “And we’ve got to get out of this binary argument of it just being Black versus white. This is really about whether the country is going to be led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the wealthy elite. Are we going to become a civil oligarchy or a nation of the people, by the people and for the people?”

It’s a lovely idea. We should call it Bizarro America.

Or maybe “Tsicar.”