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Every Crucifixion Needs a Witness

WHEN I TOLD the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II that I also had family from small-town eastern North Carolina, he was delighted. “My people are from there,” he chuckled. “We might be cousins!” This sense of the interconnectedness of rural life in the South, reflected both in personal genealogies and political histories, has served as the backbone of Barber’s call to rebuild the struggle for social justice on a moral foundation. The longtime pastor of Goldsboro’s Greenleaf Christian Church, Barber was president of North Carolina’s NAACP for more than ten years. During this time he helped to launch the Forward Together Moral Movement, which gained national attention for its Moral Mondays protests at the North Carolina General Assembly. Amidst the hard-right, Tea Party–style takeover of state government, this movement used civil disobedience and coalition building to combat a variety of injustices such as voter suppression, environmental devastation, and cuts to social welfare programs.

Last year Barber joined with others in reviving Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign in an effort to address poverty as a moral issue. In October 2018, the MacArthur Foundation recognized his commitment to building progressive movements and “broad-based fusion coalitions” with its prestigious Genius grant.

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“Rural spaces,” writes Elizabeth Catte, author of What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, “are often thought of as places absent of things, from people of color to modern amenities to radical politics. The truth, as usual, is more complicated.” With activists, historians, and political scientists as guides, Left Elsewhere explores the radical politics of rural America—its past, its priorities, and its moral commitments—that mainstream progressives overlook. This volume shows how these communities are fighting, and winning, some of the left’s biggest battles. From novel health care initiatives in the face of the opioid crisis to living wages for teachers, these struggles do not fall neatly into the “puny language,” as Rev. William Barber says, of Democrat or Republican. Instead they help us rethink the rural–urban opposition at the heart of U.S. politics. The future of the left, this collection argues, could be found elsewhere. With contributions from William J. Barber II, Lesly-Marie Buer, Elizabeth Catte, Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Nancy Isenberg, Elaine C. Kamarck, Michael Kazin, Toussaint Losier, Robin McDowell, Bob Moser, Hugh Ryan, Matt Stoller, Ruy Teixeira, Makani Themba, and Jessica Wilkerson.

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