Deconstruction and Reconstruction
In America we are now experiencing a historically unprecedented assault on our Constitutional form of government and democratic institutions – led by the man who swore an oath to “preserve, protect and defend” that Constitution. Retiring Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) said on CNN last week, “I’ve never heard of an administration, a president attacking his own government. But that’s essentially what’s happening.” Dent represents a district which currently stretches northwest of the small suburban town I grew up in near Philadelphia – home of what used to be called “Eisenhower Republicans,” a species that is now virtually extinct.
A series of bombings, some fatal, has terrorized Austin, Texas in recent weeks. The first victims were members of prominent Black families who knew each other well and belonged to a church founded by freed slaves. The suspected bomber, who blew himself up in his car, was a young white man. In a tweet, Black Lives Matter said, “Our graveyards are full of unrealized potential. This violence and hate must stop.”
At the same time, some power structures that have long oppressed us are also undergoing deconstruction. The #MeToo movement has destroyed Harvey Weinstein’s career and business, along with those of other powerful men who are serial sexual predators. After representatives of 700,000 women working in agricultural fields and packing houses sent a letter of support to women speaking out against sexual violence in the entertainment industry, the groups joined forces in the TimesUp movement. The movement seeks to reach across barriers of class and race to provide legal support and legislative advocacy to make all workplaces safe and equitable.
What structures will survive the process of demolition? Will they be the ones that support, nurture, and protect all of us or the ones that divide us and weigh us down? And what kind of world are we going to build in their shadow?
I just finished reading The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. “Reconstruction” has a specific meaning in American history. As the Rev. Dr. Barber describes it, there have been two Reconstructions so far: the first after the Civil War and the second during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Between 1865 and 1900, interracial alliances in every Southern state arose to advance public education, protect the right to vote, and curb corporate power by reaching across the color line…The fusion coalitions attacked the divisive rhetoric of white solidarity and pointed out the common interests of most black and white Southerners. As the fusion coalitions gained traction, more than a quarter of white Southerners cast their ballots for interracial coalitions and the coalitions started to take political power…Together with their counterparts in other Southern states [besides North Carolina], these blacks and whites working together in the South passed some of the most progressive educational and labor laws in our nation’s history.
As soon as these movements began to lead to real power, they were met with violent legal and illegal backlash from whites whose dominance was threatened. In the post-Civil War South, the backlash took the form of Jim Crow laws, enforced segregation, lynchings, and white terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. In the 1960’s, prominent leaders of and many activists in the Civil Rights Movement were murdered, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Over the next few decades, mass incarceration, calculated voter suppression, and police violence against people of color enforced the “New Jim Crow.” Conservative laws and economic policies targeted communities of color in clear, but less explicit, ways.
Over many years, the Rev. Dr. Barber has been working with others to build a broad progressive coalition in North Carolina to counter the extremist Republican stranglehold on state government. Their work is strongly rooted in faith and morality in an inclusive way. Rev. Dr. Barber calls it a “fusion coalition” and advocates spreading the kind of organizing they have been doing nationwide. He and the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis are now leading the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. The movement will launch with six weeks of nonviolent direct action between Mother’s Day and Summer Solstice in every state, focusing on eliminating poverty, racism, militarism and ecological devastation. For more information and to get involved, go to www.poorpeoplescampaign.org. Those of you in Seattle can come to events in South and North Seattle soon – the South Seattle information meeting is happening this week, on Thursday, March 22 from 7-9 pm at Columbia City Church of Hope. For more information and to register, click here.
As so many have said in the weeks since the terrible slaughter at Parkland High School in Florida, thoughts and prayers are not enough. Receiving spiritual guidance through prayer, meditation, dreams, and other practices can show us our path and connect us to the Divine in whatever form we experience it. Action in the physical world is another expression of moral conviction and spiritual faith. Action can take many forms. We are connected in spirit and also in body when we join hands to right the injustices in our world.
As much as the human being is a political animal, I know that each of us is also a spiritual being. We have learned in our work in North Carolina that, whatever our religious traditions, we cannot come together to work for the common good by ignoring our deepest values. Rather, we grow stronger in our work together as we embrace those things we most deeply believe, standing together where our values unite us and learning to respect one another where our traditions differ. We cannot let narrow religious forces highjack our moral vocabulary, forces who speak loudly about things God says little about while saying so little about issues that are at the heart of all our religious traditions: truth, justice, love, and mercy. The movement we have witnessed – the movement we most need – is a moral movement.
 Aaron Rupar, “House Republican blasts McCabe firing, says Trump’s conduct doesn’t ‘bode well’ for GOP,” (ThinkProgress, 3/17/2018), https://thinkprogress.org/charlie-dent-mccabe-firing-trump-sessions-d869063c9063/
 The Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear (Boston: Beacon Press, 2016), p. 116.
 Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York/London: The New Press, 2010).
 Barber and Wilson-Hartgrove, The Third Reconstruction, Prologue, p. xv.