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The Third Reconstruction, by William Barber, II.

December 5, 2016

The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement Is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear, by Rev Dr. William J. Barber II.   Beacon Press (2016), 168 pages

5 stars

This book appeared unexpectedly on my doorstep a week after my country’s disastrous presidential election.  I started reading it immediately, and it was the perfect book to help me face the future.

William Barber is the North Carolina man who has brought together Moral Mondays, a large and amazingly diverse movement opposing the extreme right’s legislation in his state.  He brings together a strong Biblical Christianity with an equally strong respect for variety of people and causes.  He calls this book a “memoir” of this movement. While he stresses that each state must develop its own agenda out of its own people’s grievances, he lays out the path to claiming the moral high ground that is inclusive rather than exclusive.  I am not usually drawn to such deeply religious language as his, but reading his words I realized the importance of proclaiming that right and wrong still matter, despite claims that all positions are relative.

Part of Barber’s appeal is simply his own charismatic voice, a voice which resonates on every page of his book.  Beyond that voice, however, Barber offers a much needed model for achieving unity while honoring diversity.  Basically he listens deeply and honestly to others who do not share his beliefs or world view.  While true to his own absolute religious stance, he does not assume, explicitly or implicitly, that he and his view must be accepted.  Instead he focuses on existing issues on which there is agreement.  As he points out, even when we work for various causes, we often face the same obstacles.  In building his North Carolina movement, he brought together leaders of different progressive movements to develop a list of priorities that all could accept.  Once the list was created, those present committed themselves to nonviolent efforts to address the problems.  He and his allies developed a pattern for protesting their state legislature’s repressive actions against the neediest.  At one level, Barber’s methods are not radical, but his willingness to listen and honor others is profoundly different from the way most of us usually work.  He offers a possible way out of the dead end of working only with others like ourselves.

Barber calls his work “fusion politics” which establishes supportive relationships for the long haul.  He recounts the ways in which blacks and whites were able to establish such alliances briefly after the Civil War.  His vision also reflects the dream of a “beloved community” of the Civil Rights movement. In honoring these past moments, he calls his book and his project, the “Third Reconstruction.”

I strongly urge others to read and think about this book.  I especially believe that it is an important book for those of us who are basically “good, white liberals” with secular leanings.  Too often we say we support diversity, but we assume and listen primarily to our own insular voices.  We think that being tolerant means never judging those who cause harm.  Barber offer a prophetic alternative to stand up to evil words and actions while listening more clearly to those who might stand with us if we are humble enough to listen to them.  Reading Barber I realized how we need to go back to taking the moral ground from those who advocate lies and hatred.


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