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Summer Reading Guide

The -third -reconstruction

The Third Reconstruction:
How A Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear

By The Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II
with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

(Boston: Beacon Press, 2016)

Greeting class of 2021 from Earlham College. We here at the College eagerly anticipate the fall arrival of a diverse and inclusive class of more than 300 first-year students from across the United States and around the world. As is our custom at Earlham, we ask that over the summer the incoming class begin college together by giving thoughtful attention to a common reading by an esteemed author who will visit and engage the Earlham community in the fall semester.

The summer reading this time ‘round is William J. Barber’s The Third Reconstruction:

How A Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear. Beginning in 2013 in North Carolina, Barber, in close partnership with other religious leaders, has been a principal figure in the rise of the Moral Monday Movement. Moral Mondays is a peaceful civil disobedience protest movement initially aimed at the state legislature of North Carolina (i.e., the “people’s house” where bills are being enacted). Frequent arrests of protesters are a common feature of Moral Mondays. The Movement dramatizes and agitates for the eradication of social, economic and political neglect, exploitation and violence against ordinary people who routinely suffer undemocratic violations of their rights. William Barber is scheduled to visit Earlham College on Wednesday, November 1 as convocation speaker.     

The Third Reconstruction offers an account of the rise and work of Moral Mondays, conceptually and pragmatically understood as “The Third Reconstruction.” According to Barber (who was born on August 30th 1963, two days after the historic March on Washington), this contemporary moral Reconstruction was founded in the “Forward Together Moral Movement that began in North Carolina, [which then] gained attention through Moral Mondays, and has spread to statehouses and communities throughout America since the summer of 2013” (p. xiii). The book’s Prologue, which is entitled “Go Home,” provides the entry door to the subsequent nine core chapters of the text. These core chapters address a range of themes that tie the author’s personal, familial, and communal narrative to wider state and national coalitional efforts to overcome the politics of division and fear in the United States. The text also includes an “Appendix for Organizers,” as well as an Afterward by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove followed by Acknowledgements, Notes and an Index.

To help you prepare for our time together with this common text, Barber’s visit to campus, and your entry into the intellectual life of the college, you are invited to respond (paying close attention to textual evidence) to the reading guide below. This guide consists of seven questions followed by an invitation to write your own questions for the author. Note that some questions have multiple parts.

1) From your reading of the Prologue,

What historical periods does the author cite as the First and Second Reconstructions?

Summarize the social justice goals of the Moral Mondays Movement as a social-political-religious expression of The Third Reconstruction; who are the persons to be included in this moral effort according to the author?

What is the essential message of the Prologue’s title, “Go Home.”

2) With the first three chapters in mind — “Son of a Preacher Man,” “My First Fight,” and “Learning to Stand Together” —  think carefully about, and respond to, the following:

In summary fashion of no more than two pages, demonstrate how Barber’s personal family story in North Carolina is informed by (or interpreted through) key periods of American history (for example, the Civil War Period and its aftermath, and the modern Civil Rights period). 

Summarize the role, or function, of religion in Barber’s personal-family life and in the life of collective struggle as he sees it.

3) In chapter four, “From Banquets to Battle,” discuss the salient dimensions (i.e., the critical aspects) of the personal and coalitional “[movement] from sickness to health,” as Barber tells it.  

4) Focusing on chapters five, six and seven — “Resistance Is Your Confirmation,” “Many a Conflict, Many a Doubt,” and “The Darkness Before the Dawn” — give a summary of the kinds of doubts, challenges and setbacks that are a concomitant part of even successful coalition (or movement) building.

5) In chapter eight, “A Moral Movement for the Nation,” what framework does Barber claim to be at the heart of the Moral Mondays Movement? In other words, what constitutes the Movement’s “most distinctive mark”? Offer representative examples of how this distinctive mark is understood, explained and/or put into social justice action for the nation.

6) Coming full circle, chapter nine, “America’s Third Reconstruction,” expands upon the idea of a moral fusion political movement, while the “Appendix for Organizers” that follows offers “Fourteen Steps Forward Together” meant to “share the lessons of Moral Mondays and invest in equipping leaders for other state-based coalitions…to mobilize in the streets, at the polls, and in the courtroom” (p. 127). 

Define “fusion politics” (or “fusion movement” or “fusion coalition”) as articulated by Barber in chapter nine (and in other parts of the text). Name some of the sources and inspirations for such a politics.

In what way(s) are the cultural arts important to the fusion politics of the Third Reconstruction?    

Thinking about “the fourteen steps forward together” suggested to organizers in the Appendix, which two or three do you think best fit your own strengths in coalitional partnerships with others? Briefly explain why.

7) In the “Afterward” you will see that Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove offers a very positive assessment of the work of William Barber and the Moral Mondays Movement. After having read the entire text carefully (including taking some very good notes), chose just one (1) of the questions above and engage the following instructions with regard to your chosen question (of course remembering that some questions have multiple parts):  

a) Summarize the central argument(s), claims or points being made under the question(s) you have selected.

b) Give examples of the textual evidence Barber advances to support his central (or main) argument(s) using his thoughts via careful paraphrase of his words.

c) Once you understand what Barber is arguing/claiming, decide what you think about it. Are his points of view sound or useful, or both (e.g., on issues related to morality, politics, religion, history, activism, etc.)? Or are his points of view mistaken or problematic, or both? Or perhaps you believe that Barber’s’ position(s) have some combination of merit and error? Take a stand.

Please note that for the most part you should stay close to the text in your response, although you should feel free to enhance your responses by making reference to other readings, cultural art forms, media, etc., you have encountered throughout the history of your own life in community.

8. Please construct up to three (3) well-crafted questions that you would like to discuss with Barber if you could speak with him at your favorite hangin’-out-just-talking-place, or, if presented with the opportunity, at Earlham College during his visit.

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