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Rev. Barber preaches love at Sylva rally

fr moralmondayFollowing the recent shooting in Orlando that left 50 dead and more injured, Dr. Rev. William Barber’s keynote address to the crowd at the Mountain Moral Monday rally in Sylva was a bit different than expected, but the message was the same.

“Its time for those who stir up hate to shut up and those who believe in love to stand up and speak up,” Barber said before a crowd of several hundred. “We can’t let hate have the first, last or loudest word.”

Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, had everyone at Bridge Park join hands and honor those in Orlando who lost their lives with a moment of silence. He said it was easy to be angry over another senseless act of gun violence, but stressed the importance of practicing love and tolerance for people of all races, religions, sexual orientation or gender. 

Barber was critical of politicians like Donald Trump who use tragedies like the one in Orlando to breed fear and further divide people instead of addressing the real issues. 

“Do we want more guns and more violence or less guns and less violence,” he said. “It’s time to stand up for love even more now — as we cry let our tears be a fresh baptism… never get weary in the way of love and justice.”

He said it was those politicians — statewide and nationally — that are overcome by greed to the point they have developed a blind spot when it comes to taking care of its people — the poor, the elderly, the sick and the children. 

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“How else do we explain what’s happening in North Carolina?” Barber asked. 

To put a face on the issues facing North Carolina, the Moral Monday rally featured many local speakers that have been directly impacted by the decisions made by legislators in Raleigh. 

Sylva resident Connie Jean Conklin suffers from physical disabilities and has been laden with hospital bills she is unable to pay because of the legislature’s decision not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The unpaid bills have ruined her credit score and therefore her ability to purchase a house or even receive care at the for-profit hospitals in the area. 

Macon County teacher John deVille spoke about the local effects cuts in public educational funding have had on both teachers and students. He said students don’t have textbooks, there are fewer teachers and more students in the Macon County system and the legislature keeps taking away local control from the public school systems and handing it to for-profit charter schools.

“Legislators say throwing money at education doesn’t solve anything, but they sure don’t have a problem throwing money at their donors,” he said. “… children aren’t potential revenue streams.” 

Franklin resident Selma Sparks, 85, talked about how difficult it was to see her state taxes go up every year when she is on a fixed income. While her Social Security and pension benefits have stayed the same, her taxes have gone from $47 in 2013 to $232 in 2015 because of the new tax reform passed in Raleigh. 

“I almost passed out when I saw what I owed because it wasn’t in the budget,” she said. “I didn’t have it so now I’m paying it off in pieces with interest.”

Others spoke about the inequality in the criminal justice system, voter suppression and immigration.

Barber said many people had asked him why he was holding a Moral Monday in the mountains where the black population is low. He said those people must not understand the history of the NAACP, an organization that has always been about promoting civil rights and justice for all — not just black people. 

Barber said he came to Appalachia because the people here are being negatively impacted by the immoral actions of the politicians who are supposed to represent them. 

“When you know the facts about these mountains — when you know the reality of the populations of these mountains — when you are anti-entitlements and programs that help the poor, when you are anti-healthcare, when you are anti-voting rights and expanding voting opportunity, when you are anti-access to the ballot, when you are anti-people, when you are anti-immigrants and LGBT — you are anti-Appalachia,” he said.

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