Dr. James A Forbes, Jr of New York and Rev. Dr. William J Barber II of North Carolina, perhaps best known for his impassioned testimony against his state’s so-called “bathroom bill,” drew a crowd from from all races, genders, and walks of life to Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Milwaukee Wednesday for the final stop of their Moral Revival tour.
“The Revival: Time for a Moral Revolution of Values” is a national, multi-state tour to redefine morality in American politics. The tour includes over 20 stops.
The evening began with a call to action. The leader asked, “what do we want?” the congregation then replied, “moral revival!” That moment led to worship with songs to get the crowd warmed up and filled with motivation – motivation that would lead to wanting to make a change.
Following an impassioned singing of “I woke up with my mind stayed on freedom” — with plenty of clapping along — Barber started off saying that we will no longer hide our deepest moral values. “Forward together. Not one step back. Now get out to vote,” he said.
Voting was the central theme of the evening. If people wanted things to move forward, and not digress, they needed to make sure they went out to make their voice heard.
Education was another important theme. “Here in Milwaukee, they say the number one problem is violent crime. Is that right?” Barber asked. “Well, I want to say that that’s a lie. Violent crime is not. We need to understand that education is directly linked to incarceration. You can’t rank number one in incarceration and number one in education. Usually if you’re number one in education you’re 50th in incarceration. If you’re 50th in incarceration, you are number one in education.”
The congregation was then shown a video that shed light on the many problems we face as a nation today. What appeared in the beginning of the video was an image of a bald eagle and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s voice saying, “As we look at this other America, we see it as an arena of blasted hopes and shattered dreams”
There were images of children looking hopeless, women and men looking despaired, and protesters holding up signs in regards to low wages.
Barber was heard in the video saying, “At the same moment we are the wealthiest nation in the world we’re the poorest nation in the world.”
Moral Revival’s focus was to improve quality of life which was seen as a moral imperative.
“Eight million poor working people are not having healthcare today because of governors and legislatures all over the country denying Medicaid expansion,” says Barber. “30,000 people are dying every year. Not because it was their time to die. But, because a governor or legislature will not give them healthcare.”
Poverty is a problem in the United States because it has not changed. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
“If someone doesn’t have bread to eat or something to nourish their bodies, that’s poverty,” says Reverend Dr. James A Forbes Jr in the video. “If someone does not have a decent education that’s poverty. Or, if they get an education and they don’t have a decent job, that’s poverty. Or, they get a decent job, and don’t get decent wages, that’s poverty.”
The end of the video featured a girl with piercing eyes, just looking blank, as the camera zoomed in on her face.
It was time for Reverend Dr. James A Forbes Jr. to address the congregation. He said he received an “email” from God to give to everyone. But, he got the email before he understood how important the email actually was.
“While our nation is awaiting to determine the impact of a video on the bus,or to determine the significance of emails on somebody’s private server,” said Forbes, referring to scandals plaguing both major-party nominees for president, “the Lord wanted to interrupt the campaign to send an email.”
Forbes Jr. wanted to approach the people with the words of the email as if God was speaking to the congregation directly. “I speak to you in this email from the reality that in the United States of America today many people are angry,” Forbes said.
“Many more are depressed and many more are in despair,” he said. “You are in such a time when a combo of anger, depression and despair has led many in your nation to the normalization of the reptilian impulse. Remember this about me. I see, I know and I care. I invested in your well-being and your full human development. I forgive you for any of your past offenses. And I am prepared to teach you the principles of human survival. I want to show you what to do when you’ve experiences the reptilian impulse. Remember love is the path towards human fulfillment.”
The event took a turn in a different direction when it was time for people to step forward and share their testimonies of when they felt they have experienced injustice.
First to come forward was Jamaal Smith, education chair of the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP.
“When I was teaching at a local school here, I remember having a conversation with a student who was having a distraught moment,” Smith said. “In the middle of that conversation, we were rudely and abruptly interrupted by one of the administrators who just irately shouted at the young lady and asked her what her problem was. When she decided not to answer, he then responded by saying, ‘That’s okay. Today is the third Friday. We got her money by Monday. If she doesn’t come back, we won’t care.’”
That immediately got Smith involved into finding out more about school systems.
“One of my favorite quotes comes from Robert Mugabe who said, ‘How do you convince the upcoming generation that education is the key to success when we are surrounded by poor graduates and rich criminals?’” says Smith.
“Here we are 62 years later still having this conversation about education and equity for students of color. This holds true right here in the state of WI. So, I say this: When we say, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ we don’t say that just for a hashtag. We say it because it’s supposed to matter. If it really mattered, we wouldn’t have to say it at all. This child shouldn’t have had to hear that they were a cash crop. They should’ve been looked at as if they were a human being. So my challenge to you, today is this: We’ve got an opportunity for our educational realm to grow and our children to get that education that they deserve. The question of the day is, what are you going to do about it?”
The next testimony came from Beverly Walker who wanted to shed some light on mass incarceration. Her family was featured in the Milwaukee documentary, 53206.
“Mass incarceration is locking people up when you shouldn’t have to,” says Walker. “My husband has been incarcerated for 21 years. He’s been eligible for parole for 10. He’s met all of the conditions. But, yet, he still sits incarcerated. Mass incarceration is unfair treatment when a suburban child, a white child, gets treated different from an African American child, or a brown Latino sister or brother who committed the exact same crime but are treated more harshly. They are considered a criminal given a time to serve in prison, while that suburban child received a warning. So I would encourage everyone to get involved. So, we can end mass incarceration.”
The next person to give a testimony was Devonte Yates, of the organization Fight for 15, which advocates for a $15 per hour federal minimum wage.
“There’s really no other way to say how we feel besides we’re tired,” says Yates. “We’re mad. It sucks that you can’t even go home to your families because we’re at work. We might as well say we live at work. Something has got to change. If I’m going to be tired, I want to be tired for a reason and that reason is to fight for better wages. We are asking for better wages so when I go home and flip my light switch, my lights actually come on. It’s sad when we have people with positions of power who won’t even listen to me. I’ve cried, I sent letters. I’ve sit outside politician’s doors for days to hear me and they think it’s a game and it’s not. I can’t do it all. One voice is not going to change anything. So I’ve dedicated myself to fighting for not only myself but for everyone. So I am asking for help. Nothing happens overnight. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t do what he did overnight. Malcolm X didn’t do what he did overnight. If you all can do me a favor, on November 29, stand with me, and with my fellow low wage workers and fight to make a difference. We’re no longer asking for better wages, we are demanding it.”
The evening came to a close when the congregation was asked to join hands with the person next to them. It symbolized that every person has a heart, and it takes a heart to fix a heart. It wasn’t a left problem or a right problem. It wasn’t a conservative problem or a liberal problem. For the leaders of this tour, it was a heart problem that needed to be fixed. And their goal was to fight extremism in state and national politics, and to be political activists in order to end poverty, and racial inequalities.
They made sure their message was heard loud and clear in that sanctuary in Milwaukee. The fight continues.