UCC events will be part of massive poor people’s assembly in D.C., June 17-18
The Poor People’s Campaign’s big day is almost here. And United Church of Christ people from around the country are planning to be part of it.
They’re among thousands of activists signed up to converge on the nation’s capital Saturday, June 18. The event’s full title is “Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls.” The day is part of the campaign’s ongoing effort to “change the narrative” about poverty in the U.S.
“We are damn tired of poverty being last in the public discussion,” said its national co-chair, the Rev. William Barber II. “You cannot have 43 percent of the people (remain) poor and low-wealth in a country with a $21 trillion gross domestic product. … During COVID, billionaires made $2 trillion and 8 million more people fell into poverty.
“It does not have to be this way. We are not going to be silent anymore. We’re going to change the moral narrative of this country. It’s time for a third reconstruction. We know how to fix it.”
UCC participants are invited to gather at First Congregational UCC in downtown D.C. the morning of the event. Then they’ll walk together to the rally itself, which runs from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 3rd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. That’s about a mile from the church.
They can also attend interfaith events the evening before, including a “communal meal” at Freedom Plaza and a prayer service near the Lincoln Memorial. Details are below.
Poverty: ‘a policy choice’
The rally has been a long time in coming. It was originally scheduled for June 2020, but COVID-19 forced it online. Meantime, the campaign has continued to press its “national call for moral revival.” Its strategies have ranged from federal legislation to more localized activities via state campaigns.
The campaign’s longtime demands include:
- A “third reconstruction,” including a proposed resolution that the campaign helped bring to Congress in 2021. Still in committee, it pushes for “fully addressing poverty and low wages from the bottom up.”
- Adoption of a federal Poor People’s Moral Budget, with the subheading “Everybody Has the Right to Live.”
- Pursuit of “14 Policy Priorities to Heal the Nation.” These range from raising the minimum wage, to protecting voting and civil rights, to reforming immigration policy.
The campaign encourages voting, too. It has consistently emphasized — in a strictly nonpartisan way — “The Power of Poor Voters.”
“There were 140 million low-income people in the U.S. before the COVID pandemic,” said Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC’s Office of Public Policy and Advocacy. “Poverty is a policy choice, and the level of poverty and suffering in the country presents us with a moral, political, economic and social crisis.”
Schedule of activities
Sorensen’s D.C.-based office will join First Congregational, the Central Atlantic Conference and its Potomac Association in welcoming UCC participants. She said she’s heard from UCC people who are coming from as far away as Connecticut, New York, Ohio and Oregon — in addition to more than 100 from Potomac and Central Atlantic.
She offered these tips for people wanting to join in the Friday and Saturday activities in D.C.:
- Communal meal, Friday, June 17 — 5 to 6:30 p.m. — Freedom Plaza, 1455 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W..: “Open to all who wish to come,” it’s meant as “a tangible model of the vision of the campaign – everyone in, not one left out.” The campaign has enlisted the nonprofit DC Central Kitchen to prepare this free, “simple, nourishing meal” with vegetarian and vegan options. Tables and chairs will be available. There’ll be a short program.
- Memorial service, Friday, June 17 — 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. — Reflecting pool, near the Lincoln Memorial: This interfaith service will mourn “the loss of over 1 million lives to COVID-19 and the many more we have lost to the interlocking injustices of poverty, racism, militarism, ecological devastation, and the distorted moral narrative of Christian nationalism,” according to the campaign’s website. It says the service is also meant to “spiritually ground ourselves” for the next day’s events. On-site volunteers will help people find the service.
- UCC gathering, Saturday, June 18 — 7:30 to 8:45 a.m. — First Congregational UCC, 945 G St NW (corner of 10th and G): This will include coffee, light snacks, time to greet each other and a brief commissioning prayer. Masks are required indoors. Directions to the church are here.
- UCC walk to rally site, Saturday, June 18 — 8:45 a.m.: From First Congregational, UCC participants will walk together to the assembly site, about a mile away. And though “march” is in the title of the event, this and other similar walks by other organizations are the only march-like parts of the day. The rally will be a stationary assembly.
- Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly, Saturday, June 18 — 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. — 3rd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.: The campaign’s website lists this basic agenda: 9:30 a.m., gather; 10 a.m., litany, prayers, “theomusicology”; 10:45 a.m., call to action; 2 p.m., closing.
People who won’t be there in person can view the June 18 assembly at the campaign’s Facebook page.
‘Be the light’
Based on past campaign rallies, participants can expect to hear testimonies from people hurt by poverty and interlocking social ills. “The heart of this country must be broken,” Barber said. “Their conscience must be shaken. And that’s why they need to hear the pain. But then after we put the pain before them, they’ve got to hear the answers. We can’t just curse the darkness. We must be the light.”
Sorensen said she’s glad to see broad UCC support — not only for a day in D.C, but as the movement presses its moral agenda for months to come. “The values and vision of the Poor People’s Campaign in so many ways mirror our core faith values and callings,” she said. “It is critical to hear the voices of those most marginalized and to mobilize these voices along with allies for policy change.”
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