The Rev. William Barber of North Carolina was arrested Wednesday with more than 20 others for obstructing traffic in front of the Hart Senate Building during a protest in Washington.
Barber and supporters of his National Poor People’s Campaign, who protest state and national policies they say are racist or disproportionately affect poor people and those of color, were in Washington for a “Moral March on Manchin and McConnell.”
The event was part of a year-long effort planned by the Poor People’s Campaign. The effort kicked off at Halifax Mall in downtown Raleigh on Monday evening and will culminate with a mass march in Washington in June 2022.
At Wednesday’s protest, Barber led protesters in chants in support of a voting rights bill called the For the People Act, which was filibustered by Senate Republicans on Tuesday.
“Pass the bill!” Barber shouted. “Free the vote!”
The protest can be seen in a video live-streamed and posted to the Facebook page of Repairers of the Breach, of which Barber is president. In the video, Barber defuses an altercation between some protesters wearing his group’s T-shirts and cursing at local police who had asked them to move out of the street. Barber tells the protesters to stay focused on the bill, not on the police who are there doing their jobs.
‘For the People Act’
Ahead of the event, Barber said in a statement, “It is a travesty that there is even a need for a ‘For the People Act’ when we have a Constitution with the 15th Amendment that says no state or entity can deny or abridge the right to vote.
“The For the People Act is only necessary because of extremist Republican politicians who have attempted to deny and abridge the right to vote of Americans with whom they disagree,” Barber said. “The Voting Rights Act should have been restored June 26, 2013, the day after it was wrongfully gutted by the five members of the Supreme Court.
“Neither Manchin nor McConnell has done a thing over the last eight years to fix the Voting Rights Act,” Barber said, referring to Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Lastly,” Barber said, “the components that Manchin wants removed from the For the People Act are the very things that make it strong. The only thing he wants to add – photo ID – not only weakens the measure but curtails the right to vote. His addition undermines court battles that civil rights lawyers are fighting right now.”
The group Wednesday rallied in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building, then marched over to the Senate building to demand to meet with Manchin and McConnell. Denied an audience with either senator, the group went into the street in front of the building.
Police asked them to disperse, and those who refused were arrested, charged and released. They were not taken to jail.
Previous Barber arrests
Barber has been arrested many times, including on trespassing charges at the N.C. Legislative Building in 2017, of which he eventually was found guilty.
At one point, Barber was banned from going into the legislative building, but a judge lifted the ban.
Barber is pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, former president of the N.C. NAACP and a 2018 MacArthur Fellow.