The Rev. William Barber was in full sermon mode today as the president of the state NAACP gave his "State of Civil Rights in North Carolina" address.
At the North Carolina NAACP State Conference in North Raleigh, Barber gave a fiery speech about fighting voter identification laws and launching a voter education campaign for the election that's less than a month away.
Barber made frequent references to God, quoting from the Bible to make the case for backing candidates who support social justice issues. At the same time, he made disparaging remarks about conservative evangelical Christians.
Barber's overall theme was on "why we need to vote." He said that if they get a progressive civil rights agenda promoted then "we can shift the South and if the South shifts, the nation shifts."
Barber spent much of the early part of his 50-minute address on the history of efforts to prevent African Americans from voting until the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.
"When you understand this history, then you understand why those of us in the civil rights community will fight any attempt, will fight anybody under any guise, under any camouflage that ever tries to steal or suppress or isolate the power of our vote,” Barber said.
Barber called voter identifications laws, such as the one that was passed by the General Assembly in 2011 and vetoed by Gov. Bev Perdue "21st Century poll taxes."
Barber called voter identification laws a reaction to the 2008 election that elected President Barack Obama. He said voter ID wasn't needed before then and isn't needed now.
"It's utterly racist for you to say it worked up until 2008, but after 2008 something must have went wrong," Barber said. "They must have cheated. Y'all shout, 'We ain't cheat. All that happened was God made it so.'
The hands that once picked cotton can now pick presidents, can pick governors, can pick legislators. We know our history. The right to vote for us is not just a constitutional issue. it's a right born out of struggle, a gift from God."
Barber repeatedly said that "voting is at the heart of our democracy." But Barber said at the heart of that, according to the preamble of the U.S. Constitution, is to establish justice and to promote the general welfare.
Barber said what they want to hear from candidates is what's in their heart.
"When you ask me what's in my heart, I can't just open my mouth," he said. "I've got to show you my budget. Show me your budget. Show me your policies. Show me your priority because where your treasure is.
You can't be naive when you engage in political discourse. Oh God, we've got to tell every politician we know you want the title. We're clear you want the title. We've seen your ads and we've watched the money you've spent so we know you want the title.
But since we're people of faith and convictions to a larger dream, since we need to know what's in your heart, we want to know if you get the title, what will be your testimony."
Barber said politicians shouldn't be "scapegoating the poor and the needy" or "engage in a racialized narrative that suggests some people, black and brown people, are welfare folk and that welfare and safety social net are nothing but a way for black, brown and poor people to run a scheme on America."
In apparent reference to Obama's "didn't build that" remark about business owners, Barber challenged the notion of rugged individualism and that people didn't get any help to be where they are now.
"You didn't get here by yourself," he said. "You didn't have sex with yourself and get here. Somebody had to help you come into existence. That's basic street-level biology. People don't make it to the top by themselves. Somebody helped you somewhere."
Barber said it's "race baiting" to call Obama a "welfare president" when more than eight million people were added to the poverty rolls during President George W. Bush's tenure.
Barber said that "the truth is America is a welfare nation." He said that's admitted in "America the Beautiful" when you sing the line "God shed His grace on thee."
"What do you think grace is?" he said. "Grace means you get something you didn't earn yourself. Grace means somebody helped you. Grace, grace, grace.
We admit it. America is a welfare nation. The only way America got ahead of European countries that existed a thousand years before her was that America was built on our free labor. They call it slavery. I like to call it welfare.
America wouldn't be where she is without 240 years of free labor. You give anybody 240 years of free labor, now if they don't make it after 240 years, I'll take it from him."
Barber charged that it's whites who've traditionally benefited from welfare, from former slave owners asking for "welfare to rebuild their plantations" to New Deal programs initially not going to black people. Nowadays, he said more white people are on food stamps than black and Latino people.
Instead of talking about who is on welfare, Barber said they should be asking why they still need it "in the greatest nation in the whole world."
Barber said they want to know where politicians stand on economic sustainability, education equality for all children, health care, dealing with inequality in court and criminal justice system and defending and expanding voting rights.
"What's in your heart?" he said. "Do you have a vision that cares for everybody? Do you believe that every child deserves a high-quality constitutional, well-funded diverse education? Or do you just want schools for some and privatized schools for others?
Do you believe in living wages? Or do you believe the CEOs should get all the cash and the laborers should do all the work? Do you believe racism and discrimination is real, empirically documented? Or do you just think it's hype that civil-rights organizations keep going to raise money? What's in your heart?"
"What's in your heart if you want our vote?" he later said. "Do you want more money for the super wealthy and more pain and hurt on the super poor? What's in your heart?"
Barber later indirectly alluded to the passage earlier this year of the state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
"Do you believe in hate and division and mean attempts to segregate the human family based on false wedge issues of race and sexuality and color and class?" he said. "Or do you believe in your heart that we can respect the dignity of all people? That we can love all people, that we can see everybody as God's creation. Somebody shout, 'What's in your heart.'"
Barber shifted his fire to conservative Evangelicals, particularly African American ones. He all but called them Uncle Tom's. He also accused conservative Evangelicals who don't advocate for a social justice gospel of being "heretical."
"Since so many people are trying to come in our community with claims of faith, we've got to ask them do you even know what's in the book?" he said. "Since you put your hand on it when you swear into office, have you read the book? Hmm, do you know what's in the heart of the Bible?
No need for you to send your paid, confused indigenous dividers, preachers that you've hired in our community who look like us who try to divide us. They had some of them during slavery. We didn't listen to them either. They had some of them that came against Dr. King. We didn't listen to them either.
There ain't no need for conservative Evangelicals to tell us what Evangelicalism is. We know what it is. We're the originators of Evangelical. It was a black man that got his instruction as Jesus was going to the cross named Simon of Cyrene. We've been there.
We know that any conservative Evangelicalism that's not rooted in the prophetic social justice gospel of the Scripture is heretical. A confusing form of theology that endorses hate when the Bible says you can only endorse love, that says so much about what God says so little and so little about what God says so much."
Barber said they know what's in the heart of the Bible.
"We know what moral values are,' he said. "That's the only way we kept our sanity in the midst of a society that's often been so immoral toward us. You don't need to send anybody to the black community to tell us about Jesus. Yes we know Jesus, and yes we know him for ourselves."
Barber said that "but since you raised the issue," he quoted from several Bible passages, including Deuteronomy 15, Isaiah 10, Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25.
"You want to know God's public policy agenda," he said. "It ain't about sexuality. It ain't about taking people's voting rights. It's not about giving the wealthy more in the name of freedom."
Barber closed with a medical analogy about calling a "code" to shock the ailing heart of America. He said their vote is a "social defibrillator."
"It's time to shock the nation," he said, comparing their efforts to how their ancestors "shocked the nation" by beating slavery, Jim Crow and the KKK.
Also today, Barber announced a "Million Voter March" to get one million minority and "progressive white" voters to do early voting.
This new report was released at the conference charging that voter identification groups in North Carolina are tied to partisan groups and are out to suppress minority turnout.
Barber also announced an effort to team with several civil rights groups to provide lawyers to deal with voter challenges and other Election Day polling issues.