Forward Together: A Moral Message for the Nation

By: William J. Barber II, Barbara Zelter

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In November 2012, with the help of what has now been ruled by the Supreme Court to have been gerrymandering, many extreme right-wing candidates were elected to the North Carolina state legislature, who immediately began enacting hateful and regressive policies. These laws disproportionately affected the poor and persons of color. In response to these policies, a movement was started to speak out against them. Led by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, who was also the head of the North Carolina NAACP, a coalition was born which melded together people from disparate walks of life, including persons of faith, women's rights advocates, LGBT rights advocates, health care workers, teachers, and many, many others. Through them the Moral Monday marches became a weekly event, as these people risked arrest for civil disobedience to bring their message regarding these unjust laws to the attention of state senators and representatives. Forward Together is an accounting of several of these marches and what they stood for, accompanied by the transcribed text of Rev. Barber's speeches at these events, shared in the hopes of inspiring others to be the voices in their own communities where harmful policies are being enacted.


Forward Together was our latest church book club read. I somehow got the impression that the book was more about Rev. Barber discussing how we can move forward in our country, making progress toward social justice and equality for everyone. However, it's more of an accounting of many of the Moral Monday Marches. If you're unfamiliar with these marches, they started in North Carolina, where Rev. Barber lives, pastors, and is head of the state NAACP. They were in response to regressive policies that were being instituted by the conservative-dominated state legislature that were waging assaults against the poor and marginalized of the community, as well as infringing upon the voting rights of the people. If you've payed any attention to North Carolina politics of the last several years, you'll know that there have been allegations of a lot of political perfidy, the most prominent of which was the Supreme Court ruling that declared the state had engaged in gerrymandering. So the situation in the state has been ripe for activism and Rev. Barber was one of the leaders heading up these peaceful protests that became knows as the Moral Monday Marches. Thousands of people took part in these marches and just over a thousand were arrested for civil disobedience over the course of the time the marches were taking place.

This book is formatted such that each chapter covers one of the marches, but there are only selected ones included. It begins with brief background information on that particular day's march, typically one-page or less, in which the reader learns about the focus of that day's event and a little of what happened. It's followed by the transcribed text of Rev. Barber's speech at that day's rally. I found the content of several of the speeches inspiring and invigorating, and while I've never seen or heard him in person, I can tell from his written words that he's a great orator. However, as other book club members pointed out and with which I agree, having the book formatted in this way did lead to some repetition. Occasionally things are repeated nearly verbatim from one event - and chapter - to another, while in other cases, it's the general ideas and sentiment that seem to be repetitious, which I suppose is the reason that only certain ones were included in the book. When the marches are protests of the same issues over and over, it's probably hard to be original every time. In light of that, though, I agreed with our other members in that it might have been a little more interesting if a more detailed history of the events and what took place at them had been included. I wouldn't have minded reading a more personal narrative of both Rev. Barber and the other protesters, especially those who were arrested.

The strength of the book, however, is IMHO two-fold. First there were a lot of issues presented as reasons for the people coming out in protest including voting rights, women's rights, LGBT rights, immigrant rights, labor rights, education, health care, unemployment, protections for the poor, and many others. What I liked, though, is that regardless of what the reason was that brought people out, Rev. Barber frames all of the issues as moral issues, calling upon persons of faith to not stand idle in the face of these inequalities. He makes it clear that our faith should inform our actions on behalf of marginalized people of all stripes. Secondly I like that he talks about a Fusion Movement and how historically it has taken people from all walks of life coming together to make a difference. The Moral Monday Marches were just such a movement in which persons of faith banded together with such diverse groups as labor unions, women's activists, LGBT activists, voting rights advocates, teachers, health care workers, and many others. They may not have agreed on everything but they took to the streets and the halls of the legislature on the combined strength of the topics they did agree on, without letting the things they disagreed on get in the way.

While Forward Together didn't end up being quite what I expected it to be, it was still a good read. It's certainly something I would recommend for community activists and organizers, who I'm sure would find great inspiration within its pages. I'm more of a behind-the-scenes kind of person, who prefers to follow rather than lead, but I still found sparks of inspiration in Rev. Barber's words to the crowds that gathered at these events. I also agreed with the sentiments behind the Moral Monday Movement and admire the people who got out to protest, especially the 92-year-old lady who allowed herself to be arrested. Now there's a story I'd dearly love to hear more about. In any case, I would recommend this book for anyone interested in progressive concerns or who is looking for a way to put their faith into action.


William J. Barber II @ GoodReads

Barbara Zelter @ GoodReads