The following is a transcript of Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis’ sermon for Week One of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival‘s 40 Days of Moral Action. It was given at National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, May 13, the first day of the 40 Days.
We are living in a cruel and unjust society. When there are 140 million poor people in this country, 38 million poor children, 20 million poor elders, 11 million people living under the threat of deportation and detention, 13 million people unable to afford water — when 75% of the poor are women and children, when 60% of African Americans are poor, when 65% of Latinx are poor, when 40% of Asians are poor, when there are 67 million poor white people, we must say: “This is not right. This is not moral. Our people are not free.” We must proclaim: “Somebody is hurting our people and it has gone on far too long, and we won’t be silent anymore!”
This evening I want to tell you about some of the leaders who are building the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.
There are mothers, like Callie Greer, who had to bury her daughter, Venus, because she didn’t have healthcare and Alabama refused to expand Medicaid. There are mothers like Leslie Boyd from North Carolina, whose son died because although he was working, and a full-time student, and giving back to the community, he couldn’t get health insurance because of a preexisting condition and died from preventable causes. Or Danelle Morrow whose mom died because of inadequate healthcare in a nursing home in Pennsylvania.
Today is Mother’s Day. A holiday to appreciate mothers. A holiday established by women with a rich history of activism and resistance. Mothers who called for an end to war and violence and devastation in our communities and in our world.
And I have a question for this country: is denying health care to mothers and their children a way to show our country’s love for mothers, for families of all types, for any of God’s children?
In Michigan, there are 100,000 households without access to running water. Mothers and families are losing their homes and their children because of living without water. And this is at the same time as the Nestlé Corporation can bottle the same water families in Detroit can’t afford to pay their high water bills for — water bills that get as high as thousands of dollars a month, but Nestlé for just a few dollars a year can bottle and sell the same water and make billions in profits.
In Detroit, teachers have to tell their elementary school students — kids the same age as my daughter Sophia and son Luke — to not tell them if there’s no running water in their house. Because if a teacher hears that the family is living without water, they have to tell the authorities and the kids will be taken away from their families.
Well we have a message for the authorities, the multi-national water corporations, our politicians here in D.C. and in states across the country — take away our poverty, not our children! Take away our high water bills, not our children! Take away our homelessness, not our children! Take away these unjust immigration policies, not our children!
Take away our poverty, not our children! Take away our high water bills, not our children! Take away our homelessness, not our children! Take away these unjust immigration policies, not our children!
Water is life. Our children are life. This country was founded on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We must live up to these ideals!
It is immoral for people to profit from moms having their kids taken away. It is immoral that in this world of beauty and abundance, God’s children don’t have access to water, or housing, or healthcare. So many don’t have good schools, or the right to vote at age 18, or sanitation services, or the freedom to live without fear. It is immoral that half of our nation’s children are poor. Half! And we have the resources to feed, clothe, house, educate, care for everyone in this entire world!
It is immoral that half of our nation’s children are poor. Half! And we have the resources to feed, clothe, house, educate, care for everyone in this entire world!
But I want to tell you about the power of poor moms, of poor people, persistently fighting and engaging in nonviolent moral fusion direct action. I want to tell you about the power of moral leaders and clergy and activists challenging this injustice, this immorality.
I can tell you of the power of mothers like Marian Kramer who put her body in front of trucks being sent out to cut off thousands of Detroiters from running water and got arrested insisting that no one should be denied water. Who teamed up with lawyers and researchers and activists and pastors and proposed a water affordability plan and got it passed and who is ready to take action with us in these 40 days of nonviolent moral direct action in Lansing, Michigan.
You will hear about the power of Callie Greer who will be taking action with us at the U.S. Capitol tomorrow so that Venus did not die in vain. She has committed to fight and organize and mobilize until every single person in this country and world has the healthcare they need to not just survive but to thrive. And Leslie Boyd, who’s helping to lead the direct action taking place in Raleigh, North Carolina. And Danelle Morrow and leaders from Put People First! Pennsylvania who will be in Harrisburg, PA tomorrow and who a year after Danelle’s mom’s death helped to organize a vigil to hold the authorities accountable for her mom’s death, including black Muslim women leaders from Philadelphia coming to Johnstown to be in solidarity with white Christian women and other diverse families.
And there is the story of some of the women and freedom fighters who came before. People like Fannie Lou Hamer. And Mother Jones. And Julia Ward Howe. And Dorothy Day. And Johnnie Tillmon. And Annie Smart. And Dottie Stevens. And Ella Baker.
And there’s also this powerful story from the Bible in Luke 18 often called the Parable of the Unjust Judge and the Persistent Widow. It’s a story about the power of poor people. The story goes that a poor woman kept petitioning a powerful politician for justice for her and her community. The story tells us that this powerful judge and politician has no compassion for people. He also doesn’t fear or care for God. Perhaps he even thinks he is God. Perhaps he thinks, ‘I and I alone have the power to do anything and everything.’
But this poor woman — this woman and her children who have been rejected by society, who are living in a cruelly unjust society, who are poor, who need justice, who need water, who need housing, and healthcare, and food, and education — this persistent poor woman won’t be silent, she prays with her feet, she protests for justice, and she keeps coming back!
She comes back with signs. She comes back with songs. She comes back with stories. Perhaps she comes back with her children and with the whole community. Maybe she starts organizing other communities and other states.
And she wins justice. Even though the political authority doesn’t love justice, doesn’t respect God, is content with hurting the people, has passed policies that oppress widows and orphans, she wins justice!
I tell you tonight. We are this persistent widow. We need justice. We need healthcare. We need housing. We need water. We need the right to vote. We need just immigration. We need education. And we will keep coming back, and coming back, and coming back. And we will win. I believe that we will win.
I tell you tonight. We are this persistent widow. We need justice ... And we will keep coming back, and coming back, and coming back. And we will win. I believe that we will win.