Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, Nov. 17, 18 or 19, 2016
“Martinsville showed me that Jesus’ insistence that we love our enemies is more than an ethical ideal,” Barber writes. “In the struggle for human freedom, it is also a practical necessity. If love does not drive out the fears that so easily divide us, we will never gather together in coalitions strong enough to challenge those who benefit from injustice.”
In Barber’s new book, “The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement” (Beacon Press), the 53-year-old pastor offers a thoughtful effort that’s as inspired and inspiring as the Scripture he quotes. It’s timely, too, for an era about which progressive professor and author Cornel West wrote days before Donald Trump was elected President.
“The founder of Western philosophy, Plato, foresaw this scenario,” West wrote. “In ‘The Republic’ — history’s most profound critique of democratic regimes — Plato argues that democracies produce citizens of unruly passion and pervasive ignorance, manipulated by greedy elites and mendacious politicians. The result is tyranny — the rule of a strong man driven by appetites, corruption and secrecy.
“The rule of Big Money … downplays the catastrophic effects of global warming, of poverty, and of drones killing innocent people — all the common ground of Trump and Clinton,” West continued. “For Plato, democratic regimes collapse owing to the slavish souls of citizens driven by hedonism and narcissism, mendacity and venality. [Social reformer and philosopher John] Dewey replies that this kind of spiritual blackout can be overcome by robust democratic education and courageous exemplars grounded in the spread of critical intelligence, moral compassion and historical humility.”
Barber acknowledged profound flaws in 21st century democratic institutions, and advocates compassion and courage to stand up against selfishness and deceit. Accepting differences and seeking common ground is a potent blend.
The book’s title is itself a blend, of realism and optimism, noting the first Reconstruction after the Civil War and the second during the Civil Rights movement. Structured as memoir, history, analysis and a call to action, “The Third Reconstruction” might be the most appropriate reading for the Time of Trump.
Barber paraphrases a line from the Old Testament’s Book of Esther: “Maybe we were born for such a time as this,” which dovetails with a 1960s comment from Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, who said, “I envy you North Americans. You live in the belly of the beast.”
This could be the right place at the right time – if people work together, Barber says, and he recommends “fusing” interests in coalitions that concede disagreements but set those aside for the greater good. “The Third Reconstruction” is less patronizing than welcoming. It envisions – and points to successes in North Carolina and elsewhere – organizing on common causes, basics ranging from health care and schools to voting and worker rights. In an inclusive atmosphere across lines of ideology instead of the suffocating air of the silos we build and inhabit apart from each other, such united fronts embrace class as well as race to fight wedge issues: white supremacy, abortion, gun rights, gay rights, and so on.
Barber concedes it’s not easy, but applauds persistence, saying “One step forward, not one step back.”
Progress could occur using some of the 14 steps Barber sees, and after Nov. 8, one rings especially true: “Resist the ‘one moment’ mentality; we are building a movement!
“No one victory will usher in beloved community; no single setback can stop us,” Barber continues. “We are building up a new world, moving forward together toward freedom and justice for all.”
Two other noteworthy steps are: “Intentionally diversify the movement with the goal of winning unlikely allies” and “Use moral language to frame and critique public policy, regardless of who is in power.”
Written with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, “The Third Reconstruction” is a bright, brave call for a dark and fearful time, and at 168 pages, the book is concise as well as accessible.
As he, West and others from many perspectives have said, democracy needs a revival as uplifting as faith meetings can be.
Barber writes, “Despite the dark money, old fears, and vicious attacks of extremists, we know America will be because our deepest moral values are rooted in something greater than people’s ability to conspire. All the money in the world can’t change that bedrock truth. This is the confidence that has sustained every moral movement in the history of the world.”