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Dream fired up in Charlotte

It wasn’t Monday. It wasn’t Raleigh. Gov. Pat McCrory wasn’t anywhere nearby, except on the most popular poster.

But talk of morality was in the air Wednesday afternoon as the Taking the Dream Home Rally in Marshall Park celebrated the “I Have a Dream” speech Martin Luther King Jr. gave 50 years ago.

That talk came from preachers and teachers, from activists with grizzled hair or youthful buoyancy, from blacks and whites and Christians and Muslims and Jews.

It came as an invocation of biblical testaments, old and new, and an exhortation to vote.

It came in song: “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “Make Them Hear You,” “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.” It came in stories from North Carolinians who had counseled prisoners or who had been prisoners briefly after being arrested at “Moral Monday” protests this year at the North Carolina legislature.

And it came at last from William Barber II, who had already spoken in Lincolnton at another of 13 rallies held Wednesday across the state, one in every congressional district.

Though the head of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP said “I just stopped by as a country preacher,” he pulled the sun-struck crowd to its feet with his raspy, roaring style.

He remembered that King had considered cutting out the “Dream” sequence of his speech but went ahead when gospel singer Mahalia Jackson urged him from offstage to include it.

“We have to listen to the voices offstage,” Barber said. “We have to listen to the 140,000 people who live in poverty in Mecklenburg County. Listen to the 22 percent of the children who live in poverty here as corporate profits soar.”

Like all the speakers, from host Kojo Nantambu (president of Charlotte’s NAACP branch) to CMS school board Chairwoman Mary McCray, Barber told the crowd he didn’t consider this a battle between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans.

Barber spoke of the more general need to march for King’s dream of social equality across economic and racial borders.

Audience members carrying a picture of McCrory’s face at the center of the Stars and Bars had a more political slant. The heading on that often-seen poster labeled him “Patriarch of the Jim Crow Family Reunion”; N.C. Sen. Phil Berger (“Uncle”) and N.C. Rep. Thom Tillis (“Cousin”) flanked him.

Signs of every type proliferated: “Protect every American’s right to vote,” “Why don’t poor people deserve health care?” and “GLBTs deserve equality” were among a hundred or so placards.

The speakers addressed all those issues, as well as changes to the criminal justice system, despoliation of the environment and disenfranchisement of voters – or general indifference of the electorate.

(Nantambu informed the crowd that only 300 people had taken advantage of the first four days of early voting in the current primary election. He wasn’t pleased.)

Yet it wasn’t merely a day for philosophizing or chanting the most popular slogan: “Forward together! Not one step back!”

Voter registration booths stood at either end of the plaza, and Barber urged listeners to tell congressional representatives to restore portions of the Voting Rights Act taken out this year.

He also spoke after leaving the podium about specific action that a coalition of civil rights groups intends to take.

The first steps, he said, are legal: challenging legislation viewed as oppressive or unconstitutional with lawsuits.

Voter registration, education and motivation will follow. Protesters will utilize social media as never before.

More rallies to raise public consciousness may follow.

(Six Moral Monday meetings have already occurred outside Raleigh.)

“The gift of callousness from these legislators has opened a space for people to come together,” Barber said. “We don’t criticize them as Republicans because we all know responsible Republicans. We call them extremists.

“Fifty years later, we are still having to fight for what we won long ago. We have to keep making people conscious of the moral issues at stake.”

Toppman: 704-358-5232
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