Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, Director of the Kairos Center and Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, gave these remarks during her Address to the Nation with Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II on Thursday, September 24.
If there ever was a time to fight — it is now.
200,000 dead from the novel coronavirus in a nation that spends more money on health care than any other.
A president willingly assassinating democracy, calling for massive voter suppression, vowing to appoint judges so that he remains in power, emboldening white nationalists.
A Senate that has refused to pass a stimulus and provide any relief to the unemployed, uninsured, those facing evictions but is quickly convening to stack the court even before the nation mourns the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
An (in)justice department that has no accountability to the people or to the Constitution of the country. In plain view in the statement that came down in the Breonna Taylor case yesterday, we all saw that we are living in a moment when property is valued more than people. The only charge any officer who murdered an innocent black women asleep in her own home got was for shooting into another house. Not for taking the life of this child of God!
The wealthy and powerful suppressing wages of essential workers so that billionaires can accumulate more than $875 billion at the same time that the poorest families are losing everything.
And some of the worst wildfires and hurricanes and tornadoes and climate disasters in history literally have the world on fire while the fossil fuel industry and corporations have more influence on our national politics than the people!
This is what the Bible calls a kairos moment — a time of great crisis, the crumbling of all our institutions, the breaking down of society. Plagues shed light on foundations of injustice. Prophetic leaders preach judgement and doom while oppressors double down on misery.
But kairos is also about the possibility for change, the birth and growth of movements for justice, the opportunity for a revolution of values and a radical redistribution of political and economic power.
Kairos is also about the possibility for change, the birth and growth of movements for justice, the opportunity for a revolution of values and a radical redistribution of political and economic power.
And do we ever need such a radical redistribution.
There are 140 million people in this country who are poor or one fire, health crisis, job loss, storm, away from deep poverty.
There are 1000 people killed every year by the police — those who vow to protect and serve.
There are 62 million workers now being called essential, but being paid expendable wages.
And over the past months, misery and dispossession are growing. More than 12 million people have lost their employer based health care — adding to the 80 million who had inadequate health care.
There is record job loss — more than 29.6 million people claimed unemployment benefits in August.
Tens of millions are facing evictions and 1 in 10 low-income renters are likely to face eviction in the next 2 months.
13 million people reported not having enough to eat in August in a nation that throws away more food than it takes to feed the whole world.
And last month 1 in 10 people reported being depressed and suicidal because the injustice is just too much, too hard.
And millions of teachers and students are struggling to go to school with less resources and no infrastructure for online learning while our political leaders are willing to sacrifice children’s lives to the altar of greed and profit.
Again this is in a nation that spends hundreds of billions of dollars on the military. This is a nation that bails out banks and corporations to the tune of trillions of dollars overnight.
And perhaps people saw this week that Mike Pompeo attempted to create a commission on unalienable rights at the United Nations around religious liberty and private property. Those are not unalienable rights.
Unalienable rights are the right to life – including health care and living wage jobs, liberty —including freedom from state violence and debt forgiveness, and the pursuit of happiness — including quality education and paid sick leave.
But the ONLY way that we can achieve these rights is if we shift the narrative and build power.
The only way we can save this democracy is if we unite and fight.
The only way we can promote justice is if a movement of those locked up and left out, undocumented immigrants and indigenous nations, uninsured fathers and homeless mothers come together and mobilize and organize and register and educate people for a movement that votes.
This is the time. We can’t sit this one out. We need to suit up now!
Ida B. Wells used to show up to lynchings where mobs of thousands gathered with only 7 or 8 other freedom fighters to resist and organize. And although so many say today they would have been there in the numbers then, even when there were very few, we need you to suit up now.
If as many people who said they took part in the 1963 March on Washington and other freedom marches had really all shown up, there would have been millions more engaged and present, but even if not everyone got involved then, we need you to suit up now.
Today people say they opposed the Jewish Holocaust, other systems of slavery and genocide, global war and conflict, and many got involved and others did not, but what we know is that we need you to suit up now. We need you to fight this fight out.
I want to conclude with my favorite quote of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — as he was launching the Poor People’s Campaign – connecting the evils of racism, poverty, and militarism in another great moment in history.
The dispossessed of this nation — the poor, both white and Negro — live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize a revolution against that injustice, not against the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against the structures through which society is refusing to take means which have been called for, and which are at hand, to lift the load of poverty.
The only real revolutionary, people say, is a man who has nothing to lose. There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life.
We are that new and unsettling force. And this is our time. We can’t sit this one out. We will mobilize and organize and register and educate people for a movement that will vote. The very heart and soul of our democracy depends on it.