Pod for the Cause host Ashley Allison and the iconic Rev. Dr. William Barber II, president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach and architect of the Moral Mondays movement, discuss what justice and freedom look like in the Trump era. The conversation includes how young people are leading the movement and how we should all use our moral compass to continue the fight.
S01 E07: What Do Freedom & Justice Look Like?
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Ashley: Welcome to Pod for the Cause – the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the Leadership Conference Education Fund, where we expand the conversation on the critical civil and human rights challenges of our day. I’m your host, Ashley Allison, coming to you from Washington, D.C. What’s up everybody? We got the Pod Squad, like we start off every show, where we discuss pop culture and social justice topics while incorporating our issue areas into the conversation.
Today we have some amazing guests. We got an OG, Gabby Seay, Political Director of 1199SEIU, Craig Aaron, President and CEO of Free Press, and Saqib Bhatti, the Co-Executive Director of Action Center on Race and the Economy, also known as ACRE. Today we are talking about freedom and what it means to be an American. Welcome to the Pod Squad, y’all.
Craig: Thanks for having us.
Saqib: Great to be here.
Ashley: Alright, let’s just jump right in. We just celebrated the Fourth of July, and somebody who resides in the White House decided to do an address – I won’t even call it a presidential address – spend millions of dollars or American taxpayers’ money to – shenanigans. Shenanigans. What did we think about it? Did anybody watch it? It also rained – thank you Mother Nature. Thoughts on the Fourth of July celebration by Trump. Craig?
Craig: I think the rain – they had these Biblical rains, I’m taking that as a sign. My basement is definitely suffering because of them, but I think someone’s trying to tell us something about what went down here on the Fourth of July. So hollow, so empty, and so expensive.
Ashley: Literally empty.
Craig: Yeah, no one is there for this neofascist display. Look at our might, let’s fly a bunch of fighter jets over downtown to show something? I don’t know. It’s these different visions of patriotism that are on display. I’m looking at the empty Fourth of July and the US Women’s National Team, and how there’re just these stark differences of what is the patriotism you can get behind. Is it an exciting women, queer, celebration, or is it this empty suit, giant tanks version. That’s really where we’re at right now.
Ashley: That’s so true. Saqib, what you got for me?
Saqib: It reminded me of college, in a European history class. We had to watch this film, Triumph of the Will. It’s two hours of Nazi propaganda. It’s a Nazi parade. He’s trying to do his own version of Triumph of the Will, which is just bizarre, that that’s a thing that’s happening now.
Ashley: That’s where we’re at, yeah. Gabby, what you got for me? What’d you do on the Fourth of July?
Gabby: I spent it at the beach, celebrating America in the truest form with the diversity of people and just enjoying our natural elements. I missed his little address, whatever it was, but the best summation of my reaction is a tweet I saw. There was a picture of all the rain coming down and they just said, fix it Jesus. Thank you Lord for showing us the Almighty how you are viewing this waste of money, incredible waste of time, of the military.
We talk about how the military is the greatest military in the world, and we can beat anyone – this bravado that Trump often talks about with regards to the military. This completely obliterated that by this superficial show of force. I think it was disgusting, it was over-the-top, and ridiculous, and it makes me really sad ‘cause when I lived in DC, and in the good old days of Barack Obama, it was such a nice time. It wasn’t a time of division, it was just like let’s just celebrate America, let’s have some fireworks.
Ashley: Go sit on the mall, maybe hear the symphony play.
Gabby: Yeah, and I’m like, how do you make the Fourth of July –
Ashley: Your campaign address, yeah. Let’s go back to something Craig talked about, and the US soccer team. I remember, when I was a little girl, and Brandi Chastain ripped that jersey off, in the sports bra, slid on her knees after kicking the winning goal, and just being like, “Wow.” I could barely play soccer in second grade, and at that point I think I was in the sixth grade, but it was just like this is what America’s about. Fast forward several decades now, and we have the women’s soccer team killing it out here, and killing it with a purpose.
Have you all been following this? What are you thinking? They’re standing for equal pay. I just find it fascinating, and I think that it’s a sham that the men didn’t even advance, they get paid more than the women. This is what’s happening in our country now. Saqib, you work on race, and gender, and economy, and wealth things – what are you thinking about this? How do we fix these things if we see it from people getting paid in corporate America, to nonprofits, to the women’s soccer team?
Saqib: This happened with the women’s soccer team – what’s important about it is it’s actually elevating this conversation that needs to happen for everyone else as well. It’s true that it’s absolutely a travesty that the women’s soccer team gets paid a fraction of what the men are getting paid for a fraction of the performance, but what’s also important is that this is actually happening everywhere across our economy, across different sectors. Jobs that are more often represented by women just get paid less than other jobs. There’s a reason why teachers don’t make a lotta money, is because that’s seen as women’s work.
I think what’s really remarkable about this is that this thing that in any other time period would’ve been a celebration of America, rah rah – this moment of the US Women’s Team winning the World Cup – is turning into this opportunity for really a mass protest around this issue. I think that’s really a great place that we’re at that that’s finally happening to open up this larger conversation.
Ashley: Yeah, Craig, you introduced the subject. What do you think?
Craig: I just think it’s such an amazing political moment, to have this as a contrast to what was happening on the Fourth of July, for our political conversation. You saw the president trying to get into a Twitter spat with the team members and others, and then get very, very quiet because it was this amazing moment of no – arms, this is for the video version of the podcast that doesn’t exist – arms spread out in this celebratory mode, incredible displays of athleticism. Sue Bird, another amazing athlete, just coming in being like, “Wait a minute, that’s my girlfriend,” and let’s go. We need to talk about this. That, to me, is incredible and empowering, and there are political lessons in this, I think, for all of us in, “Oh, I don’t know, they might say something. What do we do?” To be like, “No, we’re doing the right thing. We’re going out there. Look at us. We’re amazing, and yeah, we should be compensated for that, just like anybody else,” of course, but also just this idea that no, we’re not gonna allow you to reclaim this vision of patriotism.
We’re not gonna allow you to take away this moment with cheap politics. If you wanna get in the arena, you really have to get in the arena. That, to me, is so exciting and I’m seeing a lotta women in my life be like, “Yes, this is what I want. I might not have been on the soccer pitch for 20 years, but let’s go kick it around.” Let’s go! I think that’s very exciting ‘cause I think it is showing an alternate vision of what we could actually get behind, and instead of this clichéd, oh it’s just the old days of small town America, we’re all waving a flag. No, a different flag really could be waved here. This is what this looks like. That’s a vision of patriotism I’m like, “Tell me more about that” as opposed to what we saw happening in the drizzly rain in this other thing that’s being done in the country.
Ashley: As you were describing that, Craig, I was thinking there were two crowds of people chanting, Amer-i-ca, Amer-I – and they stood for different things – same word, standing for different things. Gabby, I wanna come to you about something that also was a childhood memory of me. The little mermaid is gonna be black. Can I just be real honest before I talk about that? Halle is the young woman’s name. There’s sisters, but Halle is the one who is going to be the new little mermaid. This is what white supremacy does to somebody. I’m a black woman, I thought she was just gonna be the voice of the little mermaid, and the little mermaid was still gonna be white with red hair. I’m like, “Why is everybody so upset? Who cares?” And then I’m like, “Oh snap, they switching the game up. We about to have a black mermaid! Okay, black people swim. That’s right. We don’t care about our hair getting wet.” I was just living for it, and just watching all the beefs going online. The little mermaid is black, girl, what you got for me?
Gabby: It’s astonishing the things that we pick fights over.
Gabby: A fictitional fish and character that is supposed to be white with red hair, and it’s just wild to me the way we try to find divisions and create us and them choices, but what I love most about this conversation is how people just rushed to her defense in such a class act, black Twitter, white Twitter, all Twitter type of way. There have been so many Facebook groups, things like that, that were created to protest Halle being the little mermaid, but they have completely backfired. If you’re a part of any of this, they have been hilarious.
On one hand it’s sad that we fight over fictitional characters and cartoon movies, but it also gave me a little bit of hope because we were able to take – and so many people were able to take – something that could’ve been really hurtful to a whole community of folks, and just turn it into joy, and turn it into laughter, and to turn it into something that was much, much, much more light-hearted.
This isn’t the first time. Fox News did entire segments about how Santa Claus isn’t black. I think they’ve done that segment for the last decade or so, anytime their holiday season comes around, and so this isn’t news, just a new person, but I love the response that people from across the spectrum had to this ridiculous debate.
Ashley: You know what? A whole new world.
Gabby: Don’t you dare close your eyes. But that was Aladdin.
Ashley: Look at you – oh. Is that? That was not – nevermind. Childhood was a long time ago. Ariel was harmony.
Ashley: Yes it was. Go check the film. Fact check me.
Ashley: Harmony. Look at you, look at me, we’ll live in Harmony. Okay, we’re moving on. Listen, I don’t like to use this opportunity to talk real issues and just always talk about Trump, but I wanna just go back to the citizenship question because you know I think since this is the sexiest topic there is right now – and we won. We did a whole episode – one of our first episodes was on the citizenship question. We talked about what could happen if it was on the Supreme Court, said look, Trump Administration, you did not have enough information to put this on. If you show us the proof, maybe we’ll reconsider it. You are watching the President of the United States throw a tantrum because the question is off. The forms are literally being printed without the question.
They have fired every attorney that was working on that case, and the Department of Justice – it is really hard to get a job at the Department of Justice – and say we need new attorneys. The judge is saying no, you need to tell me why you’re firing these judges. This is like a soap opera. Saqib, Craig, Gabby – any of you go. You know I love the census. I could talk about this for days, but I would like to hear other voices.
Craig: I just think the whole legal drama is amazing, where you’ve literally got these attorneys having to step back because they’re like, “June 30th, June 30th, it’s the hardest deadline and there’s nothing we can do,” and then the president comes in, again, with a tweet, and they’re just like, “Uh, I can no longer appear before a judge because I would be lying. Please lose my number.” It’s been amazing, though, even with the case at the Supreme Court, this was flying under the radar from a media perspective, and now we’re seeing all the bad reasons, but also wait, what, what are they fighting for? The idea that watching this justice department again twist itself in knots to try to explain away something because Trump tweeted it is really harrowing, and that they do not have a case.
Ashley: I know!
Craig: They have nothing to go back with to say, “Oh, just kidding, here’s a better way to do it,” and yet all the Trump lackeys starting with the Attorney General running around being like, “Um, yes, we really think there could be something, and we’ll tell you about it later.” It’s just unbelievable, and I think this is like we just have to keep the pressure on because this was a victory, this can be secured, this isn’t something that they can just go in and the appeals court or the Supreme Court’s gonna say oh now it’s fine. I think this is a moment to really keep pushing forward to make sure this doesn’t end up on the census, but it shows you just how much, even in all their inept ways, this administration is trying to game the system to exclude so many people, to push favors, and to obviously pursue political power by discounting so many people who live in this country.
Ashley: Yeah. Everyone, this is the Pod Squad. I got Gabby Seay, Political Director of 1199SEIU, Craig Aaron, President and CEO of Free Press, and Saqib Bhatti, the Co-Executive Director of Action Center on Race and the Economy, also known as ACRE. We been talking about everything under the sun. We got a couple more things to talk about. Anybody else wanna chime in on the citizenship question? Otherwise I’m moving on.
Gabby: The only thing I’d add here is I think we have to really pay attention to the narrative that Trump is using ‘cause I think it is less about the census, per se. I think it is more about finding ways to otherize immigrants to further xenophobia, to further the hatred of black and brown folks, whether they are new immigrants or not, and so I think we have to be really careful about how we empower him to talk about this narrative even more because what he’s trying to set up is a false choice that voters will have next year around do you wanna support a party that wants to give everything to all these other people, or do you want to vote for the party that is going to support real, true blue Americans that will show up for their country on the Fourth of July at big spectacle.
I just want us to be really thoughtful about how we don’t allow him to continue this narrative because he’s building towards something much bigger than just the census, even though the census is, I think, the biggest thing that we can do – the presidential elections happen every four years. This happens every 10, and decides so many things, but he is specifically trying to further a narrative that he’s already been successful in otherizing people of color, particularly immigrants.
Saqib: The way in which he’s shown over and over again a pattern of just complete disregard for the rule of law – this coming from the Executive Branch, which is supposed to be enforcing the law. And then tries to turn all these issues on immigration – these people broke the law, so forth. He is breaking the law.
Ashley: That’s right.
Saqib: He is disregarding the Constitution of the United States, disregarding the Supreme Court. The latest thing around, well, can’t we just push the census back? Wasn’t that the latest thing? No, there’s documents that govern how this happens. This is enshrined in American law.
Ashley: I’m gonna do something we’ve never done before. I’m gonna give you 20 seconds to think of the word. I’m gonna say freedom and you’re gonna give me a word that you think back for it. While you all think of your word – yeah, I put you on the spot. Think fast. Be on your feet. I’m just gonna do one more song, and just give a shoutout to Lil Nas. We just had our pride episode. Shoutout to Lil Nas for being yourself, loving who you are, and everyone else who lives into their own dignity and freedom. Saqib, freedom, what do you think?
Ashley: Okay. We starting off –
Craig: I’m going liberation.
Ashley: Craig! Freedom, liberation. Gabby, freedom, what you got? What’s the word?
Gabby: Langston Hughes.
Ashley: Okay. We got hypocrisy, liberation, and Langston Hughes. Listeners, freedom, what’s your word? Think about it, live into it, hold onto it, and be the best American you can be, even if you’re not an American. Be the best person you can be because this show, Pod for the Cause, is a place for everybody to love each other and live into their dignity. Coming up, we have a very special guest, the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II, so don’t go anywhere.
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Ashley: Welcome back to Pod for the Cause. Today we are talking about freedom and justice, and what it means to be an American. We have a very special guest with us today: the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II, President and Senior Lecturer of Repairers of the Breach, and the architect of Moral Mondays, the movement in North Carolina. Reverend Dr. Barber, welcome to the show.
Rev. Dr. Barber: Thank you for having me on this podcast.
Ashley: I heard from the grapevine that you started your career in social activism when you were 15 years old, as the head of the NAACP Youth Division. Young people are going to lead this movement. Young people are going to guide us to justice. Can you tell me what it was when you were a young person that brought you to the civil rights movement?
Rev. Dr. Barber: Let me step back a second and say what positioned me to even be where I was to become President of Youth Council, and that was my parents in ‘67 got a call from a black principal named E.B. Wilkins, who was principal of an all-black school in Roper, North Carolina. The schools in North Carolina had still not desegregated some 14 years after Brown. People often don’t talk about that part of the history. Brown happens in ‘54, ‘64 schools still had not desegregated, ‘68. ‘69, ‘70 – and my father agreed, and came back home, gave up a lot to bring his only child back to the South where he didn’t have protected voting rights, and where he would have to enter me into kindergarten and first grade – into segregated kindergarten and first grade. He and my mother could only get a job at the segregated school. This is ‘67, ‘68, ‘69, and I was among the first children to go to the grade school, help integrate it.
I tell people, I didn’t really have a choice. In my home, to be a person of faith was to be involved with justice, and to be involved with justice meant to care about issues like racism, and addressing issues of poverty. I never saw it as a dichotomy. By the time I was 15, I had been – we used to call it “radicalized,” if you will. I’d been radicalized by the way in which my father, who was also clergy – one of the many in my family over 500 years on just my father’s side – but a particular clergy who believed in the prophetic part of the Bible, those 2,000 scriptures that tell us about justice, and doing right, and caring for the poor is what’s mostly important.
That experience of going to a segregated school, it was natural to me to say, when it came time for leadership to be chosen, I decided to run for president. In fact, I was encouraged to do so, and that’s what I love about the leaders. They encouraged me to run, and they started saying things like, we not only encourage you to do this, we’re doing this so that later on, when you get old enough – and they didn’t mean when I got 100. They meant when I became an adult, I could participate and be in the adult branch.
Ashley: And maybe do something like a Moral Monday.
Rev. Dr. Barber: Yeah, or a State Conference President. I thank them for that, and I say to young people today, we have to see young people not as a part of the movement of tomorrow. It never has been that way. The most transformative times in the country is when youth and age come together for the right things because justice is timeless, and injustice is far too old, and has been around too long. A lot of the things we’re fighting for, I am convinced that the real battle now is about 2040, 2050. There are people who see a transformative demographic happening. No one clear race majority. In a few years, this democracy will be the biggest, strongest, liberal democracy in the West, where people of color, progressive whites, and others will be the primary influence of who gets elected.
We’ve not seen that in the history of the world with the kind of financial resources to challenge extremism around the world. I think there are people who don’t wanna destroy the democracy; they want to disable it ‘cause they wanna rob it, and they wanna rob the future.
Ashley: Tell me more about – what you mean by that?
Rev. Dr. Barber: When somebody’s trying to rob a house, they don’t go blow the house up. They disable the alarm system.
Ashley: They just pick that lock or something.
Rev. Dr. Barber: They disable the alarm system. People of color, poor people, people impacted – all of the people that are being attacked now are the alarm systems, and 43.5 percent of the people in this country are living in poverty – that’s an alarm system. Democracy can’t stand that for so long. There are persons, when they keep wanting to extract the money out of the government coffers, more and more greed, so that they can do things like they did with this recent tax cut. They had a tax cut and then used it really to falsely inflate their own stocks by doing those buybacks of their own stock.
It’s almost like what happened in South Africa, when by the time Nelson Mandela was president, the South Africans, or those that were running, the white extremists, had so dismangled the government, and dismantled it, and defunded it, and undercut it, that he had hardly anything to work with but the presidency.
That’s why the young people have to understand – when people are fighting against 15 dollars in a union, that’s your future. When they’re fighting against healthcare, that’s your future. When they’re trying to stifle the right to vote, they’re trying to stop the coming demographic that really is already here.
Ashley: They’re trying to stop them.
Rev. Dr. Barber: To stop them, and so you have to have a little attitude.
Ashley: I got attitude.
Rev. Dr. Barber: When somebody is trying to stop you, and they doing it in your face, and daring you to do anything.
Ashley: It’s almost like, say something.
Rev. Dr. Barber: Yeah, say something. I dare you.
Ashley: I dare you. Right. You talked about how the movement needs to center the people who are most impacted, and I live in Washington, D.C., and there are a lotta smart people who’ve been elected, who’ve run organizations, who I think struggle – even myself at times – about how we are leaders, but we are not the face sometimes, and we need the people. How do you find your moral compass to make sure that the people who are most impacted are at the forefront, but yet you can still lead?
Rev. Dr. Barber: First of all, if you build relationships with the people – when we did – all of the tours we’ve done across the country, we were invited to come by people on the ground. We didn’t just run in; we were invited, and then we didn’t just go in to do a speech. We went in to live among the people, work among the people, see their pain, experience it, and then to believe in their agency, believe in their possibility. These folk are fighting every day. They may not be on CNN and whatnot. If I can help lift that up, they don’t mind that, but what they do mind is building stages that’s only about a person, and when you really look at, for instance, the March on Washington – it wouldn’t have happened if there wasn’t actions and things happening in over 600 cities around the country.
Ashley: That’s right, yeah.
Rev. Dr. Barber: People have misinterpreted history. Like Dr. King was some individual leader, and others – no. There was so much underneath, grassroots work, building from the bottom up. My motto for it is Jesus. Jesus built from the bottom up. He went among the people, and I don’t care how smart you are, or how much you claim to be a leader – one thing, if nobody is following, you not really a leader.
Ashley: You gotta look behind you and see.
Rev. Dr. Barber: I say look beside you. Sometimes look in front of you because you can produce a title, but to produce a legacy is really to help produce people who can do what you do even better, and to be okay with that, to have an ego. I don’t have a problem if folk come to hear me in a stage say, okay, you came to hear me, but let’s hear this person who’s not a statistic, who is among those 37 people without healthcare, who is poor. We have to have, at some point, the ability – extremists know how to do this.
Ashley: They’re doing it real well.
Rev. Dr. Barber: If you notice, they are always put an anecdotal story, or a person, up front. A lotta the stuff that extremists, they do, like Bannon and folk like that, they really do it in the background.
Ashley: That’s right.
Rev. Dr. Barber: I’m not suggesting we don’t need people who’d be [inaudible]. That would be foolish. I’m a pastor, I’m out here, but what I am saying is, for instance, when every mass meeting we have in the poor people’s campaign, the first thing we do is we lift the community in song and the arts. The second thing we do is have religious leaders come in and provide a framing, and then next thing we do before anybody says anything, is we have testifiers from all five areas, who stand together on that platform. Then when Liz or I speak, they stay with us because we have to put a face on these facts. We can’t just say, 140 million people living in poverty and just leave it as a statistic.
Ashley: That’s right.
Rev. Dr. Barber: We can’t do that. We can’t talk about the fact that people in the armed services now – a private makes barely $30,000 a year while government contractors make something like $19 million a year. We can’t just say that and not put some of these people who have served in military, and also have to get on food stamps, and don’t have healthcare, in front of the consciousness of the country. Otherwise, what happens is we have this false moral standard that both sides have equal moral positions, and it’s just an argument about policy rather than an argument about political violence, and the death, and the destruction of people’s lives.
Ashley: I don’t do this show for myself. I do it for the people, but I have to ask you this question ‘cause it’s been on my heart – a lot of what you talk about is, if a brown, poor person and a white, poor person, and a black, poor person unify and find their power together, we’re unstoppable. It reminds me so much of Fred Hampton’s theology with the Black Panther Party. How do we do that? How are you building this movement, and how is faith integrated into all that as a man of the cloth?
Rev. Dr. Barber: As far as the faith part of it is, in the Bible itself, there are 2,000 scriptures that say, a nation is judged by how it treats the poor, women, children, the marginalized, and the immigrant. That is just clear – Hebrew scriptures, Old Testament, New Testament – it’s just clear. I don’t know any other way of claiming to have a spiritual life, or spiritual impact, or spiritual experience that does not in turn produce a quarrel with the ways of injustice that divide, destroy, ostracize people. That’s number one.
Number two is how you do it. You get in the trenches, you go where people are, and you don’t try to have a different message every other place.
Rev. Dr. Barber: Last week when I was in Kentucky or when I was in West Virginia, I talked about racism just like I’m talking about it tonight, and made the connections. We actually use maps. Whenever we get in front of a group, the first map we show is racism, but we use the penetration point of racist voter suppression, so people understand we’re not talking about cultural racism. They ain’t calling that stuff. The reason we do that is because you cannot build any movement of togetherness in this country that does not take race and racism seriously. It will fall apart. Racism will always pull it apart, so you have to deal with that up front.
We speak truthfully about that, and we say look at that map. Every state that has racist voter suppression, people look at it and we say – we overlay that map with poverty – child poverty, women in poverty, white people in poverty, lack of healthcare, lack of union rights and living wages, hurting the LGBT community. People say, “Wait, do that again.” We say okay, and we do it again. They say, uh-uh, the same states. And we say mm-hmm.
You can hypothesize that if all you knew about a state was that it was a racist voter suppression – and I never say voter suppression. I say racist voter suppression. If you know it’s a racist voter suppression state, you can also know it’s a state that produces policies against the poor, policies against the immigrant, policies against gay people, policies against women, policies against people that need healthcare, and then we say, guess what, here’s the bamboozlement of it.
The persons who end up getting elected by all this racist voter suppression, gerrymandering, when they get in office because of the numbers, the disaggregated raw numbers – hurt more white people than they do African Americans.
Ashley: That’s right, yeah.
Rev. Dr. Barber: Not in terms of the concentration of poverty, but in terms of the entire disaggregate, the total. I was in West Virginia doing something like this up in the hills, and somebody said, “Damn!” I said yeah. You don’t get everybody, but that’s the other story. We don’t have to. The Bible says we need a remnant of people, so you have to dare to go into these communities, and show people, and bring people together, and you won’t get everybody.
Ashley: You’re waking people up.
Rev. Dr. Barber: Right, and it’s not new. In the 19th century it was black former slaves, and former free people, and poor white folk, and preachers that after the Civil War rewrote all the constitutions in the Southern states and took over Southern legislature. In the social gospel movement it was black and white people, poor people, coming together around faith. In the civil rights movement, we forget the diversity, and that’s been by design, almost – the corporate retelling of the story. They only loved the “I Have a Dream,” Dr. King, for profit purposes. They don’t wanna read the ‘65 King to ‘66 to ‘67 to ‘68, and the critique on racism, militarism, and poverty.
We have to, and we have to add now two others: ecological devastation and the false moral narrative of religious nationalism and Christian nationalism. That heresy has for too long had almost a free run in the media and in the public square.
Ashley: Folks, you have heard from one of the best. This is a generational leader that I have the honor in sitting down with Dr. Reverend Barber. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for leading a movement, thank you for transforming our hearts, thank you for opening people’s minds, and thank you for being on Pod for the Cause. Coming up, I’ll hit you with some real talk during our hot takes segment, where I get a few things off my chest in three minutes or less.
[Music 30:27 – 30:45]
Ashley: Welcome back to Pod for the Cause, where we’ve been talking all about freedom and the American identity today. Between our Pod Squad and the Reverend Dr. Barber, I have a few things to say. The definition of freedom is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. That sounds good to me, but in reality, we know that that definition compared with how black and brown people, queer people, marginalized people have to live in this country is in constant conflict.
Let me do this disclaimer because I don’t want people to think I’m trying to bash America. I’m not. I am an American. I have known no other country to be my home other than this one, and because it is my home, I want it to be the best. I want it to be the best for everybody who lives here. I mean all people, citizens or not, queer people or straight people, black people or white people. I want the best for all, but we gotta do some work to get there.
Let me just give you a couple examples of how this conflict constantly exists in people’s life. For example, we just celebrated the Fourth of July. Now, for black people, it’s a complicated holiday because while most people are celebrating it as America’s birthday, and let freedom ring, and all of this stuff, we weren’t free. We didn’t get freedom on the Fourth of July, so while we have our barbecues, and we like fireworks, it’s not that we can celebrate in our wholeness on that day because we weren’t seen as whole people on the Fourth of July.
Let’s go to the Dixie Chicks – and this was a while back – but the definition says you’re able to speak without restraint. When President Bush was in office and we were going through the wars, they said that they didn’t want the wars. They didn’t wanna spend money on the wars, and that they were ashamed of the president, that he was taking us into war. The Dixie Chicks, these are three white girls. They literally got banned from country music radio, their careers started to spiral. They have had resilience, which is great ‘cause that’s what America’s all about, but they actually weren’t able to speak with their true, free, authentic voice.
Then fast forward to today, country music doesn’t even want Lil Nas, which we talked about earlier, being on their show. He had to get a country music artist to validate him for being at the awards show and on their radio station. That’s not freedom, y’all. I think the finest example of this right now is what’s happening to Colin Kaepernick. Love him or hate him, think he’s a good player or not, the man is allowed to kneel for whatever he wants. We have freedom of speech. That’s what this country is about, but he literally – the brother can’t get a contract to play football. Great, Nike is supporting him, but what he wants to do is play, and as long as we live in a country that says we’re about freedom, but people can’t say what they think about the people we have elected, or what they think about what’s happening in their communities, or the fact that the Fourth of July wasn’t really about freedom for all – we aren’t living into the true essence of freedom.
We all have work to do, including me because Pod for the Cause is about everyone taking a step back, looking at what’s happening in our world, and trying to be the best we can be. I celebrated the Fourth of July, but every year, I want everyone to think about how everyone experiences freedom. And if everyone can’t live into it, we still have work to do.
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Ashley: Thank you for listening to Pod for the Cause, the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the Leadership Conference Education Fund. For more information, please visit us at civilrights.org, and to connect with me, hit me up on Twitter, @podforthecause. Be sure to subscribe to our show on your favorite podcast app and leave a five star review. Until then, for Pod for the Cause, I’m Ashley Allison, and remember, a cause is nothing without the people.