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Rev. William Barber on Voter Suppression: Republicans Know They Can’t Win If Everyone Casts a Ballot

StoryOctober 08, 2020
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During Wednesday’s debate, Vice President Mike Pence refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power if Biden wins the election. Instead, he referenced the Trump administration’s legal efforts to restrict mail-in voting. Rev. William Barber says the Republican Party’s voter suppression efforts ahead of the November election, aimed primarily at Black and Brown voters, amount to “surgical racism with surgical precision.” The Poor People’s Campaign, of which Barber is co-chair, is leading a major voter mobilization effort to combat voter disenfranchisement. “They know they cannot win if everybody votes. They are terribly afraid of poor and low-wealth Black and Brown people voting,” he says.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Barber, near the end of the debate, Vice President Mike Pence refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power if Biden wins the election. Instead, he commented on the Trump administration’s legal efforts to restrict mail-in voting.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Let me just say, I think we’re going to win this election. President Trump and I are fighting every day in courthouses to prevent Joe Biden and Kamala Harris from changing the rules and creating this universal mail-in voting, that will create a massive opportunity for voter fraud. And we have a free and fair election. We know we’re going to have confidence in it. And I believe in all my heart that President Donald Trump is going to be reelected for four more years.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about the Trump administration’s efforts to stop voting, and also what you’re doing. But the significance of this?

REV. WILLIAM BARBER II: You know, I come from a unique place. North Carolina was the scene of the crime of the worst voter suppression, after the case out of Alabama and when the Supreme Court gutted Section 5. And Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that it’s like putting away your umbrella — the Shelby case, it was — putting away your umbrella in a rainstorm. And in North Carolina, Amy, when it was done, the Republicans there said, “Now that the problem has — the headache has been removed, we can do what we want to.” And guess what. Everything Pence just said, we heard in 2013. And they tried to roll back every progressive way of voting. And they actually went to the books and looked at how did it benefit Black and Brown people and young people, and those were the rules they tried to roll back. And the court said it was surgical — surgical racism. And what I saw in North Carolina, what we defeated in North Carolina, what we filed suit against in North Carolina, is now what Trump and Pence are talking about doing on the national level: surgical racism with surgical precision.

I wish the moderator had drilled down on that voting rights case, because, you know, Pence and Trump don’t believe in the Voting Rights Act. I mean, Republicans don’t believe in restoring it. Even the Black one, like Tim Scott, they don’t believe in it. They know they cannot win if everybody votes. They are terribly afraid of poor and low-wealth Black and Brown people voting.

So, what are we doing? We’re saying to people, “You have to vote.” We have a campaign called “We Must Do M.O.R.E.” And your listeners can go to We’ve mobilized more than 5,000 persons to make over a million calls to poor and low-wealth people in eight states, where we know the percentage of poor and low-wealth people that need to turn out to change who sits in the Senate, who sits in the presidency, who sits in governor’s mansions and general assemblies, is under 20%. We are mobilizing all over the country. We are putting out people to do poll watching. And we have a relationship with Forward Justice and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, creating poll voting protection so that people know where to call, where they have the legal — what their legal rights are. We’re training them. We’re mobilizing a thousand times, a thousand congregations, temples and mosques, that are going to organize a thousand people in their congregations, over a million people. We’re organizing 10,000 people of faith, that we’re asking each one of them to reach out to a hundred people and to get them to the polls and vote.

And we’re telling people, vote by absentee ballot. In North Carolina, where we have 16 days of early voting, vote early. And if you vote on Election Day, then put your shield on, put your mask on, put your gloves on. Pack you a lunch. Get you a folding chair. Put some water in that lunch bag and vote. And if they want to come watch us vote, let them watch millions of people, because we’re not scared. We’re not giving away this democracy. Let them come and watch.

And then stop saying Trump won the last time. He was elected by the Electoral College because of 80,000 votes. We have to end this mythology that he had some kind of superpower. The fact of the matter is, 100 million people did not vote. The fact of the matter —

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend —

REV. WILLIAM BARBER II: — [inaudible] did not vote.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Barber, at one point during the debate, a fly landed on Pence’s head for nearly two-and-a-half minutes, prompting widespread commentary online. Professor Ibram X. Kendi, author of the best-selling book How to Be an Antiracist, tweeted, “As soon as Pence started denying the existence of systemic racism, the fly got him!” And you have a record last night, a ceiling shattered. Senator Kamala Harris made history as the first Black woman to debate a white man in a presidential or vice-presidential debate. She was the first Black woman, Indian American woman. The significance of this, in the last 20 seconds we have?

REV. WILLIAM BARBER II: Yeah, she was fusion politics indeed. She was the second Black woman to be the vice president on a major ticket, first on the stage to debate. You know, I couldn’t help but go to the Book of Exodus, where it talked about where God said, “If you don’t let my people go, I’m going to cause flies to come as a sign of what’s wrong. But I won’t let the flies be on the people, but the fly will be a symbol that you’re just wrong. You’re lying. Let my people go.” And Trump and Pence need to let the people go. They’ve been holding poor and low-wealth people hostage, essential workers hostage. It’s time for a change in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Dr. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, we want to thank you so much for being with us, speaking to us from Raleigh, North Carolina.

To see the full debate at, go there, and you can see the 90 minutes. Again, President Trump says he refuses to participate in a virtual debate. We’ll bring you the latest. Check at I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Stay safe. Save lives. Wear a mask.

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