Service Title: Days of Liberation: Anything Less than Everything is Not Enough
Scripture: John 20:19-31

Shailly Gupta Barnes, Policy director of the Poor People’s Campaign and the Kairos Center

As I was thinking about these Days of Liberation, I was thinking about what it means for us to be victorious, to win. It can be hard to make sense of when things are still so hard. 

It seems to me that not only the resurrection, but having people sharing that good news and to be building a community that was both telling and showing people that God was on the side of the oppressed, was a victory. It was a victory to believe that people can and will believe, even through their doubts. And it was a victory to build power around the idea that not only was God present in their organizing around empire, but that they could, will win… That they would not be defeated by Jesus’ crucifixion, that they had something even more powerful than empire on their side… That would carry them through to liberation. 

I was not raised with these stories, but they remind me of another story that we often celebrate in my tradition around this same time of year, at Holi, the festival of colors, spring, love, and again, justice winning over injustice. There are lots of stories around Holi. One is about a boy, who believed in a God of justice, and who beat back the forces of injustice that were out to get him… Forces that were ready to sacrifice his life, except they could not break his belief that God was on his side. And ultimately, that little boy won.

So as you many know, we recently released this Poor People’s Pandemic Report, a report that shows the really grim, horrific truth, that many of us already knew, about poverty and COVID-19: That during the pandemic, poor communities suffered a death rate that was 2x as high. And that at different times of the pandemic, this death rate went up to 3 times, 4.5, and even 5 times higher. This wasn’t because of individual choices, or vaccination status, but reflected a society that was not willing to look at its poverty, at its inequities in health, housing, basic needs, and then resolve them.

Since the report was released, I’ve heard a lot about how it affirmed what people already knew, which is painful. The truth is that poverty destroys lives, takes lives, damages our homes, communities, and our futures. For us, who are not like doubting Thomas, because we knew this already. For us, the report showed us clearly how right we are, but I’m not going to say this is our victory. Just like it’s not really a victory to show those who did doubt how harmful poverty is or who blamed people for making bad choices, rather than the healthcare and economic systems that made those bad choices possible in the first place.

It’s not a victory that we have a very clear indictment on the policies, systems, structures that brought us to this point where poor people are not only overlooked, but sacrificed to this economy, to this death-dealing system because, in many ways, we already had that. 

I think that our victory over the forces of oppression, is that, in these days of liberation, we are even more resolved in our commitment to demand everything we need, that we will not settle for anything less than everything, because we can’t.

Our basic needs are never too much to ask for. We have plenty with which to provide for everybody and to compromise on any of these needs is to compromise on our people. 

When our government failed to provide adequate health care for every single person, during the worst public health crisis in a century, it was willing to compromise on Denise from Maine, and Pamela from Alabama, and so many others who were failed by these systems. So we cannot, will not compromise on health care. 

And there are other things we can’t compromise on. When living wages were removed from Build Back Better agenda, and we didn’t get guaranteed paid leave, that was a compromise on low-wage workers like Marcela from Philadelphia, Mindy from Maine, Claire from Kansas. 

When the Child Tax Credit wasn’t extended, that was a compromise on Kris in WV and Jessica in NY. 

When our government passed an $800 billion military budget, and did not pass a climate agenda, they compromised on Vanessa from AZ, and the struggle in Oak Flat, and veterans like Tim in Indiana, Jose in NY and Savina in Boston, as well as our children, including my own.

When our government continues to not tax the wealthy, relieve our debts, or provide an economy of abundance for us all, it is compromising on the 140 million poor and low-income people in this country. And this is something we cannot do. 

This report, however much it affirms what we already knew, it also strengthens our resolve to organize for everything we need. Because anything less than everything we need is not enough.

So every time we show up, no matter who is there with us or how many of us there are, we are not only carrying our fallen fighters with us, we are standing alongside each other, and preparing for the numbers who will join us, people who already know that life can be different, that they deserve more and better, who only needed something to be a part of to make that possible. 

And as we keep showing up, we will grow this Campaign, and movement, and this Freedom Church of the Poor. And we will win. We will win.