The first thing, the Rev. William Barber said, is "to say with consistency and clarity what the problems are that face our people." That's why a 14-point platform, replete with specific sub-points and "action steps," took center stage Saturday at the state NAACP's "HK on J" event in Raleigh.
"HK on J" stood for "Historic Thousands on Jones Street," where the General Assembly is located. But before the 2,000 who attended marched to Jones Street, they gathered in Memorial Auditorium, 10 blocks away, where Barber and a host of his progressive allies took them through a detailed recitation and explanation of the 14 points.
"It was a teach-in," said Chapel Hill activist Pete MacDowell, "and a pretty effective one."
The 14 points range across subjects from education, which comes first ("All children need high-quality, well-funded, diverse schools"), to the war, the final point ("Bring our troops home from Iraq now"). In between: livable wages, child care, health care, better housing, prison reform and election reforms.
Taken together, says Barber, the state NAACP president, they constitute a "multicultural, anti-racist, anti-poverty agenda" that can bring disparate progressive groups together as a statewide force. Or as he calls it: "A movement, not a moment," designed to get the attention and support of the state's political leaders and the General Assembly.
It was a point he made repeatedly Saturday: "This isn't a black gathering, this isn't a white gathering, this is a right gathering," he said.
Barber's goal is a strong NAACP organization at the grassroots in all 100 counties, with activists connecting the dots between their own organization's issues and the others on the list of 14. For example, he said, "even with the war, people understand the connections ... the way we went into it crumbles the moral fabric of our communities."
The moral fabric of low-income minority communities was another theme, with speakers like the Rev. Curtis Gatewood, an event organizer and the former Durham NAACP branch leader, denouncing the "gangsta mentality" and vowing to attack the club-and-drug culture within.
"First of all," Gatewood declared, "you need to understand that our community is going down."
Don't meet up at the "club," he shouted, slurring the word. "Say you need to meet me at the library."
Beyond the specific policy objectives, one of the most interesting sub-points on the "HK" agenda is its call for a statewide Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which would be charged with examining, as the Rev. Nelson Johnson of Greensboro said, "our ugly, racist history ... and its debilitating effects on us now."
The effort would be patterned after a similar commission that studied Ku Klux Klan violence in Greensboro and the one in South Africa that examined apartheid's horrific legacy.
Joining the NAACP's leaders Saturday was a diverse cast of other progressives like Democracy North Carolina's Bob Hall, Khalilah Sabra of the Muslim-American Society Freedom Foundation, and Marisol Jimenez-McGee of El Pueblo.
But it was clearly the NAACP's day, and a showcase for Barber, who MacDowell calls "probably the best progressive leader in the state" right now.
"I think it was an historic moment in the last several decades," MacDowell said. "Because, first, it was the NAACP inviting people to come together, and bringing black and white forces together. And second, because Barber himself was just as inclusive as he could be in reaching out to environmental groups, Latino groups, Muslim-American groups, and saying we all need to work together."
For details on the 14 points and all the related legislative and community action steps, see the Web site of the N.C. Justice Center at www.ncjustice.org/media/library/881_cnjan2007.pdf.