“We, as a nation, as a movement, must break through the lie that only small changes, on one issue at a time, are possible. We must break through the lie that poverty and death are the will of God. We must break through the lie that some lives are more precious than others, that it’s impossible to unite and organize for change, or that the rich and powerful are coming to save us. When we cry out, when we organize from the grassroots, when we take bold action together, it can be done.”
—Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, Director of the Kairos Center and Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign
What a year! We are living through the most toxic political environment in over a generation. Our economy is suffering a downturn that could rival the Great Depression. Almost 20 million of our fellow Americans have fallen ill to the coronavirus and over 341,000 have died.
This past year, Kairos played a critical role in steering our movement through this crisis. And the world took notice. Tens of thousands signed up with the Poor People’s Campaign and we deepened partnerships with hundreds of organizations, 12 of the nation’s largest labor unions, and 20 national faith bodies. Meanwhile, as tens of millions viewed our social media pages, leaders with Kairos reached millions through dozens of op-eds and stories reported in venues such as the New York Times, Washington Post, MSNBC, CNN, Business Insider, the Guardian, the Nation, Religion News Service, Sojourners, and more.
With it all, we at the Kairos Center and the Poor People’s Campaign have intensified our commitment to building a movement to end systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism and the false moral narrative of Christian nationalism. We are proud of the organizing and power building that we did in 2020, but mindful of the enormous work that lies ahead.
Read on to learn more about Kairos’ major 2020 activities and accomplishments in our annual program roundup, and click here to view a PDF version.
M.O.R.E. Tour – Mobilizing, Organizing, Registering, and Educating People for a Movement that Votes
All year, we engaged millions in a national organizing campaign to do M.O.R.E. At a time when so many people were being thrown into unemployment, hunger, and homelessness, we doubled down on our work in every region of the country.
In January and February, we brought the Poor People’s Campaign to communities across the nation, marching and holding mass meetings in Massachusetts, South Carolina, Alabama, New York, and Washington D.C. In Iowa, we led a #MoralMarchonDebate at the Democratic Presidential debate in Des Moines to demand a debate on poverty and systemic racism.
In March, our tour moved online. We held successful digital gatherings in Arkansas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Texas, Georgia, Kansas, Missouri and more. Through it, we learned how to build a movement with great distances separating our staff and partners, amid deeply troubled waters.
Before COVID, we had been planning our signature event of the year — the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington to take place on June 20. Again, the pandemic threatened to be a show stopper, but times demanded that we carry forward, and we moved online. On June 20, 2.5 million people tuned in to hear the painful and courageous stories of the many leaders in our movement. Our program was broadcast across major news channels, radio stations and social media, and was translated into Spanish and ASL.
On the heels of June 20th’s terrific event, we launched the next phase of our M.O.R.E. campaign: a mass voter participation and protection effort that began with the release of a groundbreaking report showing that a small uptick in poor and low-income voting could transform our political landscape. The report confirmed empirically what Kairos has said for years: a movement that unites poor people across difference and division can create real and lasting change, including in elections.
We got to work calling and texting more than 2 million infrequent, poor and low-income voters in key states. We also worked with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Forward Justice to prepare the ground for an expansive voter protection program. This program trained more than 1000 volunteer poll monitors in 10 key states across the Midwest and the South.
On Election Day, we also held a prophetic vote program, which included prayer, reflection, and the ringing of bells every hour on the hour. That evening, on the steps of National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C., Rev. Theoharis, in partnership with the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference, led religious leaders in a nationally-broadcast night of moral witness for a more just democracy.
Moral Policy in a Time of Crisis
For years, Kairos has helped build the visionary policy work of the Poor People’s Campaign. We believe that policy is an integral part of social action, and should be drawn from the real experts on poverty, the poor and impacted grassroots leaders who every day create the solutions they need to survive.
This year, we brought grassroots leaders together with other movements, policy experts and elected officials to participate in congressional meetings and hearings, including the Congressional Black Caucus and the Democratic Women’s Caucus. We joined and convened major national events like Earth Day Live, Fire Drill Fridays, the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima/Nagasaki, the virtual March on Washington, and a symposium on poverty with the Divine 9 (the 9 historically Black Greek letter organizations).
As the pandemic worsened, we convened a Public Health Advisory Committee, led by some of the leading professionals in health and equity from Harvard University School of Public Health, UCLA School of Public Health, and Drexel University and developed a petition with demands to address COVID-19. This informed public programs with hundreds of thousands of participants, including our weekly Moral Monday Digital Marches, as well as briefings with both the House and Senate about enactment of a just relief package.
On June 20, we launched the “Poor People’s Jubilee Policy Platform,” a blueprint for moral policy that centers the needs of the poor. The Jubilee Policy Platform offers a framework for our organizing in 45 states and has been picked up by many organizations and elected officials, and has received wide media attention.
In October, we took some of the themes of the platform as the foundation for our first major Kairos policy conference: “Moral Policy in a Time of Crisis.” For two days, grassroots leaders joined in conversation with leading experts in public health, economics, history, law, public policy and foreign policy, to discuss policy options that might address the difficult problems facing poor and low-income people in America. (Click here to watch the recordings from Day 1 and Day 2 of the conference!)
The Battle for the Bible
At Kairos, we have always been committed to raising up generations of religious leaders in a movement to end poverty. We know that the Bible and our faith traditions are an essential terrain where narratives about poverty are contested, and that we must fight those who are disingenuous enough to use religion as cover for policies that hurt the poor.
Last January, we organized the Battle for the Bible: Christian Nationalism and the Movement to End Poverty convening at The People’s Forum in NYC for two days of workshops and discussion on this important issue, which concluded with a keynote featuring Rev. Dr. William. J. Barber II, Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, Wendsler Nosie Sr. (former chairman of the Apache Stronghold), and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.
In the spring, as the pandemic worsened, we saw a need for both fellowship and new forms of liberatory theology. We convened a Reading the Bible with the Poor Cohort and began holding a weekly online service through our now consecrated Freedom Church of the Poor.
The Freedom Church of the Poor is a major addition to our program. It regularly brings together hundreds of key grassroots organizers and religious leaders — who are engaged in various frontline struggles — in the spirit of resistance and our most sacred traditions. We are proud to have also recently launched Iglesia del Pueblo, a weekly Spanish language service inspired by Latino leaders.
Through Freedom Church and other efforts we have also continued to deepen our connection to organizations and faith leaders who challenge the false narrative of religious nationalism. This includes partnerships with, among others, the United Methodist Women, the Presbyterian Church USA, Sojourners, the Union of Reform Judaism, Sadhana Hindu Network, and the Episcopal Church.
Arts and Culture
Art and culture is central to the work of building a movement to end poverty. The Kairos Center recognizes the ways that art and cultural organizing can help to unite people across differences, share the message of our movement, and build our collective identity.
In April of 2020, on the anniversary of Dr. King’s Beyond Vietnam Speech, Kairos released a series of art + culture resources as part of a larger compilation of resources to Stop the War on the Poor: Combating U.S. Militarism + the War Economy.
In the spring, we took our creative energy online to create space for mass virtual art builds and this fall, Kairos used its art and culture creations to support direct actions that were shining light on the immorality of the economic and health crises. Through car caravans with the Poor People’s Campaign and Medicaid Marches with the Nonviolent Medicaid Army of the Poor, leaders from around the country came together to demand that the suffering of our communities stop.
Next year, we are launching a new website, podcast, and a visual art collection based on the Jubilee Policy Platform. These resources will be disseminated across the country.
This is just a glimpse of the work Kairos has undertaken this year to build a movement to end poverty in America. This is a formidable challenge. But with your support, we will help lead our movement through the enormous challenges ahead, to create a more just, peaceful and secure society. Please join us in this important work.