The Poor and Low Wage Workers Campaign and Moral March on Washington

The Poor and Low Wage Workers Campaign and Moral March on Washington

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New stories added! Clergy and lay leaders from several SNEUCC congregations traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Poor People’s Campaign Moral March on June 18. Read their reflections below: 

by Sherrill Hogen, member of First Congregational Church, Ashfield, MA 
Let’s call it the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) for short, but know that what we are talking about is a call for a revolutionary change in direction, which Rev. Dr. William Barber said is not an “insurrection” but a “resurrection.” 

And let me admit that the numbers on the street on June 18 were much lower than needed to shake this country out of complacency. And let us rejoice that thousands of Black, white, brown, old, young and mid-life, queer, trans and straight allies, and impacted people showed up.    
 
I was inspired by the event and by the effort. Inspired knowing  I am not alone. I am in community with the PPC and with my church.  We all know that our country is in trouble, but often we don’t know what to do about it.  The PPC gives us direction,* and we, the people, decide what we will do to get there. What we will do to de-militarize; what we will do to eliminate the wealth-gap; what we can do about living in a country founded on racism and still operating within racist systems; how we want to save our sacred Earth; and how we want to live by a moral compass – for us the teachings of Jesus - instead of by Christian Nationalism. 
 
The most important message of the PPC is that the current systems are killing us ALL,  not just Black shoppers in Buffalo and little children in Texas.  They kill me when I can’t shake off the silent complicity of living comfortably. They kill you when you mourn the victims of violence, wars, and poverty and feel helpless.  They kill the soul of a whole country that accepts its inheritance of slavery and genocide and won’t make reparations. 
 
Whatever we do as a church and as individuals, we can do it under the umbrella of the Poor People’s Campaign. We can adopt it and cheer it on and work on any one of its broad goals. 
I hope and pray that our whole congregation can embrace a campaign that embraces us. 
 
*End Poverty, End Racism, End Militarism, End Ecological Devastation, End Christian Nationalism. 

Chalk

by the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Mae Magill
Pastor, Ashburnham Community Church (Ashburnham, MA)

 
 I met Chalk at 10:45 PM Friday night. We met waiting for the bus to the Poor People’s Rally. I twiddled my backpack strap anxiously; he tightened his confidently.
 
Chalk is a member of common cathedral, the street church in Boston, part of the Ecclesia Network. This church of people without homes or with unstable housing graciously invited me to join them for this trip. So, there I was at South Station, getting introductions and being reminded that we all want everyone to succeed on this trip, and praying for safe travel.
 
Chalk took a seat in the back of the bus, and I picked one in the front, so I didn’t get to know him on the way down to Washington, DC. After what felt like 12 minutes of sleep, we unloaded at 9:30 PM in Washington DC. The Poor People’s Campaign had breakfast sandwiches waiting; we prayed together again, and Pastor Mary handed out envelopes. “Remember the $20 from common cathedral is to stay in DC. Find someone who needs it, and share.” The church members had raised money ahead of time; each person was to figure out how best to leave money with poor people in DC.
 
With that, we dispersed into the rally - this year on the street instead of the mall - there were chairs and screens, and a huge water truck, the chaos of thousands of people. William Barber was speaking as we entered the crowd, but I missed most of his speech as I absorbed the energy of the rally. There were signs for everyone to carry, and state gathering points, and a UCC gathering point, but I didn’t have a clear sense of direction.
 
Ahead of me Chalk called Pastor Mary over to a manhole cover in the street. “Look!”
“It’s going to be a sunflower” he explained to me, pulling a big box of sidewalk chalk out of his bag.
“So that’s how you got your name?”
He was too busy drawing to answer.
 
Soon he had made a sunflower, and a sign, and was starting to draw people in. For each person he talked to, he brought them back to the box of chalk, and then helped them find a place to write.
 
“I can watch the chalk,” I offered, opening up my tripod chair. He pulled a second big box out of his bag and put it on the ground by me.
 
After about 40 minutes, Chalk had helped people fill in about a quarter of a block with proclamations, signs, and pictures. He leaned into a hundred pictures, and got people talking about where they were from and why they were at the rally. Eventually the road near us was covered and I suggested we move down the road so that there was more room to draw. He made another manhole cover into another sunflower. His energy never flagged.
 
The trip home was a chore—our bus was not where we’d planned, and all of us were tired. When we arrived in Boston at 2 AM there was a cold, messy, rain. The common cathedral folk were headed to St. Paul’s for the rest of the night; I was headed back to my car. “Which way do we go?” I asked at South Station. “Follow me.” said Chalk.
 
And I thought, of course I’ll follow you. You are a leader, working to make a better world.
by the Rev. Nancy Leckerling
Madison, CT


On June 17, Jon and I answered the call of Rev. Dr. William Barber II, Disciples of Christ Pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, Presbyterian Minister and theologian at Union Seminary, Co-Chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign, to come to Washington, D.C. for the Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March.

We had been to marches in Washington, DC before (Save Darfur; People’s Climate March), but these two days were especially memorable because Of the following: the faith-based advocacy we witnessed and were a part of; the poignancy of the stories we heard from poor people; the emphasis that Revs. Barber and Theoharis put on the intersectionality of injustices, what they call “interlocking evils” in the U.S.---systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, the denial of health care, the war economy, and a distorted moral narrative that tells us that in the richest country in the world, there is not enough to go around; and the sheer numbers of people of all colors, faiths, walks of life, from every part of our country, gathered shoulder-to-shoulder marching and advocating for justice. We have followed online for years the ministry of Rev. Dr. Barber, who has inspired us, as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once did, to call our nation to mourn, repent and reconstruct how it treats poor and low-wealth people.

We went to the Lincoln Memorial on the eve of the Assembly/March for a memorial service and candle-light vigil for people who had died from COVID, systemic poverty and racism. A wall had been erected, and during the service, there were lines of people waiting to write the names of their loved ones who had died. Revs. Theoharis and Barber led the inspiring service of prayer, song, and preaching to remember those who had passed on and to prepare us for the Assembly. We met Rev. Theoharis after the service and she mused that Connecticut had not yet been connected to the Poor People’s Campaign, and indeed, while we saw banners from almost every state at the Assembly on Saturday, a CT banner was not among them.

Early on Saturday morning, we went to the First Congregational Church of Washington, D.C., accepting the earlier invitation of Sandy Sorensen, Director of the Washington, DC office of the UCC Justice and Witness Ministries. We were warmly welcomed by Sandy, Rev. Amanda Hendler-Voss, the Senior Minister of the church, as well as UCC leaders of the Central Atlantic Conference - Conference Minister Rev. Freeman Palmer, Associate Conference Minister Rev. Marvin Silver, and Ms. Kecia Munroe, campaign organizer for the UCC Justice and Witness Network of the Central Atlantic Conference. Hans Holznagel of the national setting of the UCC was present to take photos.

The gracious members of the church had set up tables outside with coffee and breakfast items and snacks and drinks for us to take to the Assembly, and we had a “meet and greet” outside, followed by a commissioning service in the sanctuary for the March and Assembly. Then, en masse, we marched, carrying our signs, and led by our UCC banner, to the site of the rally at Pennsylvania Avenue and 3rd Street. As we arrived, more than 20 religious clergy and lay people- Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, Methodist, Afro-Caribbean, the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers), Catholic Sisters of Mercy, Unitarian Universalist, Indigenous, as well as Sandy Sorensen and Chaplain Rev. Maeba Jonas of Goucher College, both representing the UCC - began the Assembly, all speaking individually, and creating an interfaith litany calling us to be a nation guided by love, justice and unity.

Sheila Katz, head of the National Council of Jewish Women, proclaimed, “We gather on these streets in the spirit of the prophet Amos, who declared, ‘Hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the public square.’” The five-hour rally included testimonials from Rev. Barber and Theoharis as well as well-known activists, including Rev. Bernice King, MLK, Jr.’s daughter, former Vice-President Al Gore, and a rousing speech by Prof. Cornel West. Representatives from workers’ unions and secular progressive organizations, such as Planned Parenthood and Greenpeace, also spoke. The major theme of these speeches was that a complex of public policy failures conspires to keep the poor in poverty. Speakers advocated for quality, affordable health care, a minimum wage of $15 an hour, protected and expanded voting rights, quality public education for all children, ensuring the rights of Indigenous people, reproductive freedom of women, a reformed immigration system, and an end to the war economy.

The speeches at the podium were interspersed with awesome singing by the Moral Voices Choir on the stage, who led us in songs like “This Little Light of Mine” and “We Won’t Be Silent Anymore”, and in chants, such as “Forward together, not one step back”, “Everybody in, nobody out”, “Youth, elder, elder, youth, lift up the light”, “Gonna keep on walkin’, keep on talkin’ til all the people are free,” and “Fight poverty, not the poor.” A youth choir sang a poignant anthem titled “Let America Be America Again.”

Rev. Barber, in his prophetic and inspiring way, stated the March and Assembly’s goals were to: call the nation to mourn, repent, and reconstruct how it treats poor and low-wealth people; to go beyond today’s action to shift the political narrative and advocate for policy decisions that address poverty and the low wealth of the economically disadvantaged; to demand a poverty summit with President Biden to get commitments to improve the welfare of the poor; and to have a vigorous get-out-the-vote campaign for the upcoming elections.

He preached that the regressive policies that produce 140 million poor and low wealth people are forms of “policy murder.” He called us to task, saying, “We have a moral responsibility to speak up, to stand up, to show up and never shut up until all of our brothers and sisters can rise from the shackles of oppression, depression, suppression, and the violence of poverty, and be set free to live with the dignity of a livable wage, humane living conditions, access to affordable health care and housing, and the freedom to peacefully co-exist.”

After the well-known speakers, the most poignant part of the Assembly was hearing the stories of “poor” people of every race, creed, color, and religion speak about living on the edge of poverty. There were people who had lost their jobs, and worse, family members, because of COVID; these “love warriors, as Professor West named them, shared their life stories of grit, and determination while suffering decades of injustices. Many had suffered from the diseases caused by environmental racism and extreme weather events, students spoke of having no funds for food because of their thousands of dollars of educational debt, and others spoke of the violation of their dignity, worth and value by racist and/or greedy landlords, bosses, corporations., and even our government.

Rev. Barber emphasized that the Assembly wasn’t a one-day event but a declaration of an ongoing, committed moral movement and that the time to act is now. He said that the moral conscience of our society must be shocked into action if we are to survive as a nation. He preached that we DO have the people power to change the moral compass of our country and called for a “Third Reconstruction” of our impoverished democracy and a reconstitution of our nation’s priorities.

Rev. Barber proclaimed that the essence of this Third Reconstruction is “to recenter our national politics around those who are most impacted by the interlocking injustices in our policies, laws, systems, and structures in order to ensure that we all can thrive and realize the nation we have yet to be.” He concluded his remarks by saying, “Our current crises are rooted in the myth of scarcity and in the exclusion of poor people. The Third Reconstruction will build a nation that lifts from the bottom and everybody will rise. Everybody in, nobody out!”
Rev. Barber promised to keep up these appeals, saying that the Poor People’s Campaign will return to Washington, DC in September for “non-violent action all day in the halls of Congress.”

The Assembly ended with us all, led by the choir, singing, swaying and raising our hands to Tasha Cobbs’ powerful “Break Every Chain”, with a lot of us crying to the music! As Jon and I slowly walked away, we saw how extensive the crowd had been. We were up toward the front near the stage, but far back beyond where the crowd had been standing, there were rows and rows of chairs where people were still seated and where they had watched elevated screens which had projected what was happening on the stage the last five hours. The police had cordoned off, the day before, the two blocks all around the Assembly site so no cars, taxis, etc. were allowed. The whole area was a heavily policed, multi-blocks pedestrian zone with people engaged talking about what they had heard and seen. The echoes of those words, “There is power in the name of Jesus, there’s an army risin’ up to break every chain” were long with me as we walked back the miles to our hotel.

We were so glad we had been a part of this day with our other new UCC friends and other people of faith we met. We all now have our marching orders about what we need to work on going forward: to stand up against systemic racism; to counter ecological devastation and the denial of affordable health care for all; to end systemic poverty; to turn back the war economy; and to push back against distorted and misguided religious nationalism. In these United States, a land of abundance, it is outrageous that we are ignoring the needs of nearly half of our nation!

The bookends around the centerpiece of our weekend, the Saturday Poor People’s Assembly, were a day spent Friday in the amazing Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Sunday morning sharing in a lovely worship service at First Congregational Church of Washington, DC, and an afternoon spent enjoying the grounds and gardens of the National Cathedral with time to reflect on and journal much of what we had seen, heard and learned these three days.

As we drove the six hours back to CT, some of Rev. Dr. Barber’s powerful last words floated in my mind: “Those of you that have gray hair, God has kept you alive for one more fight. Those of you who are middle-aged like me, God is telling you to fight because you’re living off the fight of other people. Those of you that are young, God has said it’s time for you to sign up. The question is never, ‘Why are you still here?’ The question is ‘What are you going to do?’” And then right before he bid us farewell, he encouraged us to turn to our neighbors, standing next to us in that crowd, and say, “As long as I got breath, I’m going to use my breath to breathe a little more justice, and more love and more truth in this society.”

Amen.  
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