In the middle of an election year, dozens of justice advocates from across the United Church of Christ are assembling this weekend at the largest annual ecumenical event in Washington, D.C. For three days, April 15-18, the focus of Ecumenical Advocacy Days is empowerment — providing training and tools to lift up every voice in the democratic process.
This year's theme for EAD focuses around racism, voting rights and corporate power in the American democracy. Held annually since 2003, EAD is bringing Christians from 50 different denominations and organizations together to examine political and economic rights, and the effects of corporate influence on politics.
"Ecumenical Advocacy Days is a critical part of our work here in Washington as a way of bringing in and training some of our UCC justice leaders for advocacy while raising a collective voice with our ecumenical partners on the most pressing issues of our day," said the Rev. Mike Neuroth, UCC policy advocate. "This year as we gather with close to 1,000 people of faith, we focus our attention on the many challenges to democracy we face — specifically by focusing attention under the theme of "Lift Every Voice" on the need to restore and strengthen voting rights in our democratic process and defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade agreement, which we believe would deepen inequality and prioritize corporate interests over the common good."
About 70 EAD participants represent the UCC and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). "We are excited to welcome to D.C. many of our justice advocates, and particularly a cohort of about 20 young adults from the UCC Young Adult Service Communities who will be attending for the first time," Neuroth said. "It is critical to empower young leaders such as these who are wanting to pick up the mantle of justice and boldly articulate their values as people of faith into the public square."
Before EAD kicks off Friday night, a pre-conference will gather about 50 UCC members at First Congregational Church during the day to take a close look at the state of voting rights and begin forming strategies to keep access to the democratic process open to all. The event is in conjunction with the Central Atlantic Conference.
"We’re very excited about partnering with the Central Atlantic Conference in this UCC gathering prior to Ecumenical Advocacy Days on the theme 'Lift Every Voice: Our Faith, The Vote and Democracy,'" said Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC office in Washington.
"We have an exciting lineup of speakers and time for strategizing and mapping out next steps as we find our place in this 2016 electoral season," she said. "We are excited to have several UCC members among our speakers and panelist, including Charles Perry (Trinity UCC, Chicago) to speak about felony enfranchisement, and Rev. Dian Jackson (Mt. Zion UCC, Rockingham, N.C.) and Rev. Julie Peeples (Congregational Church, Greensboro, N.C.) speaking about attempts to role back voting rights in North Carolina, and how people of faith are responding. Dean Alton Pollard (Howard Divinity School) will lead us off with a theological framing of the day."
Sorensen said the UCC pre-event and EAD comes at "a key time as efforts to ensure our democratic process is fair, inclusive and accessible are gaining energy and momentum."