“It is time for people with a moral conscience to wield every ounce of influence and power they have towards justice and to force this nation to be true to what it said on paper.”
Bishop William Barber, founding director of Yale’s Center for Public Theology and Public Policy, penned an open letter on Monday decrying recent decisions by far-right Supreme Court justices and the complicity of political leaders who have “watched our democracy being slowly chipped away.”
Addressed to President Joe Biden, Congress, and the U.S. public, Barber’s “Moral Declaration for America” was released on the eve of July 4, which marks 247 years since the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
“When a Supreme Court and political leaders conspire to lie about history and embrace action contrary to love and justice, their actions are both piracy and perjury at the same time,” Barber wrote. “They have conspired to assassinate the hopes and possibilities of a fully representative democracy to make way for the unimpeded rise and sustainment of the evils of domination, authoritarianism, racism, economic oppression, militarism, and empire tendency, all of which are contrary to our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution.”
“We cannot afford to interpret this moment as a difference of opinion,” he added. “We are in a battle for civilization itself.”
Barber pointed with outrage to the “six people on the Supreme Court”—a reference to the court’s conservative justices—who “sealed the deal on the destruction of affirmative action, an imperfect but significant legal precedent that had only begun to scratch the surface of repairing the history of legal segregation in our higher education system.”
“The court also significantly weakened the protection of the humanity of gay people, refused to protect the right to vote for formerly incarcerated people, and refused to relieve a fraction of the heavy debt of millions of people in an economy where one-third of all people are poor or one emergency away from poverty, and in a nation where poverty was the fourth-leading cause of death before Covid,” added Barber, whose organization mobilized on Capitol Hill last month to demand bold and universal solutions to the nation’s poverty crisis.
While noting that Republican political leaders who are responsible for appointing the nation’s six conservative justices “have been rightfully linked to this mass attack on civil and human rights protections,” Barber argued that “it is high time that we stop pretending to be surprised by the party’s extremism.”
Barber, co-chair of the national Poor People’s Campaign, also emphasized that Democrats and avowedly progressive rights organizations have been complicit or active participants in attacks on basic freedoms in recent decades.
“The irony of the moment we are in is that, with all the above harmful acts done by Republicans, Justice [Clarence] Thomas was nominated and appointed to the Supreme Court under a Democratic majority in the Senate in 1991,” Barber wrote. “He was also supported by many Black organizations and civil rights organizations because of his race, even after Justice Thurgood Marshall made clear that race should not be the primary consideration for the Supreme Court nominee that would replace him.”
“Additionally, from 2009-2011,” Barber continued, “Democrats had a majority in both houses of Congress and did not use their power to reinforce the most important protections against voter suppression after the Supreme Court gutted the [Voting Rights Act]; low voter turnout due to political disillusionment coupled with severely weakened voter protections ultimately paved the way for Trump to get elected with less than 85,000 votes in three states through the flawed electoral college system.”
Without explicitly naming him, Barber recalled Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) efforts to secure approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline as part of a debt ceiling agreement with Republicans that included new work requirements for older food aid recipients and other attacks on critical safety net programs.
“It is unbecoming to admonish extremists on Monday and then strike deadly compromises with them on Tuesday,” Barber wrote. “The compromises in this nation over the last 247 years have always come back to bite us. Compromises on justice are like a double-sided tool made to build and tear down progress concurrently.”
“We are all responsible for this mess,” he added. “So, it’s time to let go of the blame game. It is time for people with a moral conscience to wield every ounce of influence and power they have towards justice and to force this nation to be true to what it said on paper—‘that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.'”
Directing his message at the nation’s current political leaders, Barber implored Biden to use his “bully pulpit” to “bring national and international attention to the stark death toll caused by poverty in this nation.”
“To Congress, it is time to stop playing into the cultural wars and divisive tactics. Any party that is serious about the well-being of our people and our democracy must take legislative action now to stop the rapid erosion of democracy in the United States,” he continued. “To the people of this nation, our struggles are inextricably linked. The extremists are winning by default and by shallow margins of victory. We must use all the tools available to us to fight voter suppression, and we must also commit to mobilizing the 20 million poor and low-wealth people who did not vote in the past election because they have been disabused of their importance to our democracy.”
The bishop’s call to action came as advocacy groups charted their next steps following the Supreme Court’s assault on affirmative action and its decision to block student debt relief for more than 40 million borrowers, part of a string of damaging rulings from the conservative-dominated high court.
Writer Rebecca Solnit stressed in a column for The Guardian on Sunday that “the first thing to remember about the damage done by the U.S. Supreme Court this June and the June before is that each majority decision overturns a right that we had won.”
“What this means is that the right wing of the U.S. Supreme Court is part of a gang of reactionaries engaging in backlash,” Solnit wrote. “It also means we can win these things back. It will not be easy, but difficult is not impossible. This does not mean that the decisions are not devastating, and that we should not feel the pain. The old saying ‘don’t mourn, organize’ has always worked better for me as ‘mourn, but also organize.’ Defeat is no reason to stop.”
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