Reflection on a Season of Nonviolent Moral Direct Action
by Kairos Center Staff
This summer, the Poor People’s Campaign intensified pressure on state and national leaders to use their power to bring change in this country through four weeks of nonviolent moral direct action in D.C. and in more than thirty states. Poor and low-income leaders and people of faith put themselves on the line, risking and undergoing arrest to bring attention to the dangerous rollbacks to our democracy. During this resurrection of nonviolent moral direct action, leaders from around the country took to the streets of Washington D.C. and marched to our senators offices to ask Which Side Are You On? and to make our demands loud and clear:
We kicked off this season of nonviolent moral direct action on July 12th in front of the U.S. Supreme Court with a Moral Monday press conference to announce our demands and launch a massive online call-in action to make our voices heard. In an open letter to the US Senate and the White House, we urged Congress to stand up for democracy and the rights and lives of the poor and of low-wage workers. We announced that, “The time is now for a resurrection of nonviolent moral direct action, not an insurrection of immoral violence.”
Women’s Moral March on Washington D.C. July 19th
The following week, women from around the country came together on the anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention for a Women’s Moral March on D.C. on July 19th. During this transformative, intergenerational march, women of the campaign acknowledged the legacy of struggle they were stepping into and lifted up the spirit of women who came before them and acknowledged the urgency to continue to wage this fight for voting rights for all 170 years later. Among the people who traveled to DC on July 19th to protest were Sophia Theoharis Caruso (11 years old), Isabel Peterson (11 years old), and Indi Barnes (13 years old). Reflecting on why they joined the Poor People’s Campaign action they said, “Even though we’re not old enough to vote yet, we’re ready to fight for our right to do so when the time comes, because we’ve seen from history that democracy has to be fought for.” Poor People’s Campaign theomusicologists helped lead the march and one of the songs they sang was ‘Voting Rights for All’. The power of this song carried into the next day where you see the women singing this song as they waited to post bail and offer jail support.
Moral Monday Actions in States Across the Nation July 26th
On July 26th, we engaged in a wave of actions across the nation with press conferences and direct actions happening in more than 30 states to show state legislators we are paying attention to the laws being drafted to infringe on voter rights and worker rights. Rev. Liz joined the NY State Poor People’s Campaign at Chuck Schumer’s New York City office where she reminded those gathered that, “When those in power use their power to disenfranchise and oppress, it is up to us, the people, to cry out!” Watch this video to see more about the NY City action, and see photos below from other states.
Georgetown-to-Austin Texas March for Democracy July 28th-31st
And then we were off to Texas for a powerful 4-day, 27-mile march from Georgetown to Austin, undertaken in the spirit of the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. We brought together poor and low-income leaders, clergy, and political figures like Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro, to call attention to the extreme attempt at passing voter suppression laws in the state. Denita Jones, co-chair of the Texas PPC said about the march, “A moral reckoning is upon Texas. We are tired, we are worn, but we are not weak. I have too much at stake, I’m a mother of five. To have my home turned into an impromptu shower station for our neighbors during the snowstorm should not have taken place, to go three weeks without clean water is not acceptable, to go unheard is not acceptable. We are here, we are mighty, and we will stand strong with everyone here in this fusion movement.”
Willie Nelson came out of temporary COVID retirement to play his first public show, and Luci Baines Johnson, the daughter of former President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law, also came out strongly in support. Regarding our demands she said, “On January 8, 1964 my father declared a war on poverty. Saying: we shall not rest until that war is won! The richest nation on earth can afford to win it, we cannot afford to lose it!”
During this same time, Rep. Cori Bush was encamped outside the Capitol to urge Congress to extend the eviction moratorium that had been in place during the pandemic. On Sunday evening, Aug 1, Co-chairs Rev. Barber and Rev. Theoharis, with other leaders from the Campaign, visited her and others who had joined her effort, to offer support for her actions. They addressed the crowd, making connections between voter suppression and the right to housing and the longer history of homeless organizing. PPC state leaders and delegates brought food over in solidarity and shared their own experiences with housing insecurity. Later in the week, the eviction moratorium was extended for another two months.
Moral Monday Action in Washington D.C. Aug 2nd
Our summer of action culminated this last Monday August 2nd, with a major nonviolent moral direct action in Washington D.C. where more than 200 poor leaders and clergy, including veteran civil rights activist and mayor of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign’s Resurrection City, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, were arrested to continue to bring light and attention to our demands. The spirit of moral resurrection was brought to life in the songs and chants that 18 PPC theomusicologists from 9 different states weaved through the action. The powerful grounding in music began on August 1st, as PPC theomusicologists participated in a #songforthepeople 24 hours and 19 minutes song circle led by Lu Aya of the Peace Poets and co-organized by Nate Dewart of Songs for the Good. This song circle set the tone for moral action and as Lu Aya reflected, “My mantra for this time has been we need to sing freedom to bring freedom.” As leaders put their bodies on the line, the spirit of song helped remind all gathered that “we won’t ever let go” in this fight for justice and that we the people must always fight for the rights of the people.
You can’t have a movement without music. We were reminded of this throughout the season, as theomusicologists from across the nation led us in song and grounded us in our mission. Watch this video from August 2nd in Washington D.C. as theomusicologists led the crowd in singing “Which Side are You On?” Laura Solomon, a march participant reflected, “As we stood together risking arrest, as we stood waiting to be processed, as we stood waiting and waiting, we sang and stood in the fullness of our power.” See more photos in the gallery below.
Our country is in need of a moral revival. The fight for voting rights, wages, and housing show that the 140 million poor and low wealth people of this country are being systematically disenfranchised from participation in our democracy. We will not stand by and let this happen. The demands of the Poor People’s Campaign must be met in order to ensure representation of all people in our government, not just wealthy elites. Living wages, voting rights, and secure and stable housing for all can be a real possibility in this country and we will not stop until it is reality.
There’s still time to join us and to take action. Visit action.poorpeoplescampaign.org to learn more:
- MSNBC: Rev Liz on Alicia Menendez 7/18
- MSNBC: Rev. Liz on Joy Reid 7/19
- MSNBC: Rev. Liz and Beto on Alicia Menendez 7/24
- BNC: Rev Liz on Charles Blow Tonight 7/28
- BNC: Rev Liz on Yodit 8/2
July 12th Press Conference
- People’s World: Poor People’s Campaign launches civil disobedience actions for voting rights
- The Hill: Poor People’s Campaign looks to put pressure on Congress
- Black Wall St Times: Poor People’s Campaign launches direct action season to end filibuster, protect voting rights
July 19th Women’s March on Washington
- Ms. Magazine: ‘A Season of Action’ Women at Center of Fight to Protect Voting Rights
- Teen Vogue: We Can’t Vote. But We Are Fighting So We Can Someday
- Washington Post: The Poor People’s Campaign protested for voting, worker rights. More than 75 people were arrested.
- Wisconsin Examiner: ‘Our democracy is in peril’: Women risk arrest in voting rights protest in D.C.
- Common Dreams: ‘Which Side Are You On?’ Arrests in DC as Women Put Their Bodies on the Line for Voting Rights
July 26th State Actions
Texas March for Democracy
- The Guardian: Texans march on the Capitol to protect voting rights
- Houston Public Media: Texas Legislature Still at Impasse on Voting Bill
- Austin Statesmen: Why I Walked in the Moral March for Democracy in Austin
- Baptist News: Poor People’s Campaign plans a march in Texas to protest restrictive voting legislation
August 2nd D.C. Action
- Sojourners: “I’m Willing to Put My Body on the Line”
- Yahoo: Jesse Jackson and Rev William Barber among demonstrators arrested
- Religion News Service: Hundreds arrested at Capitol while protesting for voting rights, minimum wage
- Episcopalian News Service: Episcopalians among those arrested in Poor People’s Campaign rally for voting rights, wage hikes
- Richmond Free Press: Hundreds arrested in D.C. at faith-led protest for voting rights
- WUSA 9: Capitol Police arrest 204 people during demonstration blocking Constitution Avenue