CHAPEL HILL – Reverend William Barber, President of the North Carolina NAACP, is the loud and passionate voice behind the Moral Monday protests in Raleigh. Thousands gather in Raleigh each week to hear Barber speak against the policies of General Assembly.
When the NAACP staged its first protest on April 29, Barber was among the 17 arrested. Those arrestees now wear pens that read “I went to jail with Reverend Barber.” Following this week’s Mass Moral Monday, more than 550 people have now been arrested.
Rev. William Barber speaking at Mass Moral Monday on June 24
UNC Communications Professor, Christian Lundberg, specializes in theories of the public discourse, public speaking, rhetorical theory, and debate and deliberation.
He explained that Barber keeps with the traditions of speakers from African American churches associated with the Civil Rights movement.
“But the most interesting thing is that further into the speech, he starts to change from the short and simple sentences, to eloquent and figural language. There are lots of metaphors and lots of repetition,” Lundberg said.
Lundberg identified several techniques that Barber employs in his speeches. He begins with declarative sentences, and then as he gets in to the speech, picks up the pace and intensifies his volume.
Coming from a church background, Barber’s speeches are also heavily laced with Biblical references. Many “amens” can be heard from the crowds at the demonstrations, as people of faith and clergy members have been very active in the rallies.
Geoffrey Frank, who attends the United Church of Chapel Hill, has been to five NAACP protests and said he loves to hear Barber speak. Frank said it’s more than just Barber’s energy that gets his attention.
“He really understands the issues and comes at them from a moral point of view. He puts his message across very well and knows the scriptures and how that applies,” Frank said.
Lundberg explains that Barber speaks in anaphoric expressions, where he begins each phrase with the same word, and then does a riff on that word.
It’s a stylistic approach used by many Southern preachers, and the cumulative effect, Lundberg explains, conveys passion to listeners.
“He’s really taking lots of individual issues in the political debate and tying them to this larger narrative frame that links the struggle in Raleigh right now to the struggle in the civil rights movement. Those two things work together to move him toward a really passionate and engaging leader, especially for audiences who share some of his assumptions,” Lundberg said.
However, not everyone in North Carolina is taken by what Barber has to say. NC State Senator Thom Goolsby called the Civil Disobedience Movement “Moron Monday.”
“The interesting thing about our culture is that people listen to speeches less to be challenged now, but rather to confirm what their own opinions are,” Lundberg said.
Lundberg pointed out, though, that the response of the listener depends heavily on their ideological beliefs.
“For liberal and progressive folks who identify with his critiques of the state, they see that screaming as an extension of his passion. It’s something that they can get into, and get excited about. I imagine for folks who are on the conservative side, they see that as just screaming. It adds more fuel to the fire over a very partisan debate,” Lundberg said.
Lundberg said time will tell how successful Barber is at reaching the North Carolinians who are somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum.
“That is what is really interesting about guys like that if they are able to reach the more moderate folks to agree with the message. Speakers were very effective with that during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s and whether or not that will be effective in our political context, I don’t know. What I do know is that guy is able to execute his strategy quiet well and so it’s interesting to listen and watch,” Lundberg said.
Barber and others involved in the Civil Disobedience Movement have said they won’t stop protesting until they see change in the legislation coming out of the General Assembly.
The next rally is set for this Monday; Barber has called for greater numbers to attend, dubbing it another Mass Moral Monday.