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"Pick up the baton:" Rev. Dr. William Barber speaks at Bridgewater

Randi B. Hagi
Barber closed his address at Bridgewater College to a standing ovation.

The Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II gave a lecture at Bridgewater College this week in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

Rev. Barber, the renowned pastor, moral leader, and political organizer, addressed a crowded auditorium on Wednesday evening. He's the president and senior lecturer of the Repairers of the Breach, and co-chair of the revitalized Poor People's Campaign, which was originally started by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his colleagues in 1968.

WILLIAM J. BARBER II: He said the threat of the free exercise of the ballot by the masses of Negroes and poor white people is what resulted in a segregated society. He said the arrogant Southern aristocracy feared the mobilization of poor white folk and poor Black folk into a political block that would fundamentally shift the economic architecture of this nation. Did you know that, right now, poor folk in this country and low wage people make up 30% of the electorate? And in battleground states where the margin of victory is less than 3% in a presidential race, they make up 44 to 45% of the electorate?

Barber exhorted the audience to not just celebrate King, but to "pick up the baton" where he left off – fighting America's "three major evils" of racism, poverty, and war.

BARBER: Do you know that if poor and low-wealth people and their allies and people of faith were just to vote 15 to 20% higher than they have, that they could challenge and direct any election from the governors to the Senate to the president? That's why you're being fought – not because you're weak. Because you're powerful. [applause]

Barber closed his talk to an extended, standing ovation, as he called those who have been rejected by society to come stand with him at the podium.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.