We have gathered in front of the OUR State Legislature where on the very ground is etched the Great Seal of North Carolina. This Seal bears two images that serve to hold this state accountable for the decisions made within these four walls. These two images, the image of Liberty and the image of Plenty, juxtaposed in this seal remind us that every citizen of this state has the right to be free from forces that would perpetuate lack in the midst of abundance and perpetuate great poverty in the midst of great wealth.
We have gathered in front of OUR State Legislature, in which the Constitution of our State is to be upheld. The Constitution, written in 1868, three years after the Civil War, which begins:
We, the people of the State of North Carolina, grateful to Almighty God, the Sovereign Ruler of Nations, for the preservation of the American Union and the existence of our civil, political and religious liberties, and acknowledging our dependence upon Him for the continuance of those blessings to us and our posterity, do, for the more certain security thereof and for the better government of this State, ordain and establish this Constitution.
But something is terribly wrong with the promises of blessings and prosperity.
There are 1.1 Million people living in poverty in North Carolina, we can do better than this.
There are 400, 000 children living in poverty, we can do better than this.
There are over 44 failing high schools, mostly black, mostly poor, we can do better than this.
There are Thousands without health insurance, many of them children, we can do better than this.
There are Thousands without HIV/AIDS treatment, easily available, we can do better than this.
There are Thousands of black and other minorities not performing at grade level, we can do better this.
There is a death penalty that is racist and classist, we can do better than this.
There is a criminal justice system that is broken and too often run by the good old boy system, we can do better than this.
There is a minority buying power that is not developed, we can do better than this.
That is why we are here today. We intend to agitate, to legislate, and to litigate because we refuse to believe that North Carolina can’t do better.
WE have to demand better.
It took WE the people to end the vicious system of slavery.
It took WE the people to ensure that women had the right to vote.
It took WE the people to break the back of segregation and legal discrimination.
It took WE the people to get America out of the Vietnam War.
And it still takes WE the people.
WE have come here to demand no more half steps and excuses; no more half hearted, half baked legislation when it comes to the children and the vulnerable and the sick and the homeless.
We are tired, but not the kind of tired that makes us quit, but the kind of tired that makes us organize.
We’re tired of seeing our state know what to do, but not having the will to do it. There are enough resources to do what we need to do. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness of thereof. What we need is the moral urgency and commitment to do what needs to be done. And if we want to we can do anything we put our minds to. Where there is a will, there is a way. So we are here. We’re organizing.
We’re pushing to change the will of our government and our leaders in North Carolina. We want North Carolina “to be rather to seem”. To be a place where “One North Carolina” is not merely rhetoric. To be a place where children are educated and workers are protected, rather than simply given empty campaign promises. To be a place where the courts are just and not schizophrenic. To be a place where we are willing to face our racist past in order that we might have a better future. We have come here to remind the legislature that this is OUR House. Our house, paid for by our work. This is our house. This is OUR House. Stop listening to the money changers and listen to the people. This is OUR House. We have come to demand. Listen to us. Get our bills out of the back rooms and secret committees and listen to us.
Vote on the People’s business, where everyone can see what’s going on. When we review the legislation that comes out of this house, too often it leaves our schools under-funded; our court rooms unjust; our workers underpaid; our sick uncared for; hate crimes and noose hangings unchecked and unpunished; minority businesses unused; the homeless un-housed; and too many of our leaders under the allusion that all is well. As long as this is the case, it should be un-mistakenly clear that We will be undeterred and this state better not underestimate our commitment to undoing the disparities that are undermining our common life together. Listen to us.
They say the distance from the furthest eastern part of North Carolina, Manteo, to the furthest western point, Murphy, is 545 miles. And they say that from Elizabeth City to Tabor City is 282 miles. Let it be said that we lifted our voices so loud and our agenda was so clear that that from Manteo to Murphy we got every politicians attention. From Elizabeth City to Tabor City. From Charlotte to Greensboro. From Bertie County to Brunswick County. From Person County to Pender County. From Wilmington to Williamston. From Southport to Siler City. From a city like Raleigh to a poor county like Robeson. Let them all get the message and the mandate that we believe that North Carolina can be better.
We intend to lift every voice until the cries of justice and the cries of fairness and the cries of equity are heard. We intend to lift every voice until the echo is so loud it shakes the foundation and reminds every politician why they should have been elected in the first place—to do the people’s business. We’re tired of giving our votes away.
Every so often God gives us moments to start movements. Just last week, I had the privilege of helping to honor the 48 year-old legacy of the A&T Four. Four young men, four freshmen, who decided that they could shake up the world and change things. I was humbled at the privilege to sit on the stage with three of them who are still alive and remember one whose name was David Richmond. He’s deceased, but his legacy lives on. God gave them a moment to start a movement. While I was on the stage, a young boy tapped me on the shoulder. I’m not sure of his age. And he asked me could he get my autograph and I told him certainly, it would be a privilege. And then I asked him who was he. And he told me I’m the grandson of David Richmond, one of the A&T Four who died a few years ago. I then said to him, “Son, you need to give me your autograph,” and he did. His name was Lyndon and he began to write my name. He said from Lyndon to Rev. William Barber. He left out one “L” in William and put an extra “a” in barber. But what struck me was the word he did not misspell. He said from Lyndon, to Rev. Barber, Justice. He spelled that word right. J-U-S-T-I-C-E. And just like, Lyndon, we know how to spell Justice.
Educate Every Child, Justice. . .
Give healthcare to everybody
Pay folks so they can live after they have worked
Tear down systems of economic discrimination
Feed the hungry
Clothe the naked
Take care of the homeless
Tell racist they have no hiding place under the law in this state
Save the environment
Stop calling our immigrants aliens and call them brothers and sisters
Come home from this ungodly war that has cost too many lives, spent too much money and has destroyed too many dreams.
That’s how we spell Justice.
So let Us Stand together, fight together, believe together, work together, hope together, march together, vote together, love together, speak out together, organize together, until Justice Rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Because this is OUR House and this is OUR Time.