Service Title: Winter Offensive: Birth of a Movement
Speaker: Liz Theoharis, Director of the Kairos Center, Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign
Scripture: Isaiah 62:1-15
I just love this passage from Isaiah 62. “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.”
It reminds me of the beautiful anthem of the Poor People’s Campaign written by Ms. Yara Allen, “Somebody has been hurting our people, it’s gone on far too long, and we won’t be silent anymore.”
And today as we celebrate and honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, it reminds me of his speech a year to the date of his assassination.
From the pulpit of The Riverside Church in New York City, more than 50 years ago, Dr. King preached, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal. The truth must be told.”
The truth is that more than 250,000 people die from poverty and inequality each year in the United States, millions of children are homeless, lack adequate food and housing, and don’t have quality education. Voting rights are being eroded, systemic racism plagues America as extremists drum up bigotry and hatred, and in many communities it is more likely that teenagers will end up in prison than graduate from high school.
It is true that somebody’s been hurting our people but we won’t be silent anymore. There comes a time when silence is betrayal. The truth must be told.
But I also believe this is true: All people have inherent rights, and no one can take them away. We have the right to life, to liberty, to enjoy the fruits of our labor, and to the pursuit of happiness. The power of our governments derives from us, the people, for the purpose of providing for the general welfare and protecting our human rights.
Therefore, if we can’t be silent, we must cry out that we cannot accept demagoguery and fear-mongering that demonize and divide. We cannot accept wages that don’t provide for a decent life, or the suppression of workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. We cannot accept segregation and inequality in our public schools, or the attempts to privatize and profit-ize them.
We cannot accept that nearly 100 million Americans don’t have health insurance, and during the worst public health crisis in 100 years, that there has been no health care expansion.
We cannot accept inaction in the face of climate change and the disproportionate impact of the ecological crisis on impoverished communities nor suppression of the rights of those protecting our water and land.
We cannot accept that 1 in 3 Black men born today can expect to spend time in prison, nor that our country holds one quarter of the world’s prisoners but only 1/20 its population. We cannot accept endless war, which spends lives and resources only to destroy lives and resources.
We cannot accept attacks on our neighbors: immigrants, indigenous people, religious minorities, people of color, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer folks, the disabled, or the poor.
We cannot accept the way things are, we must cry out, because we have been given a moral vision of how things ought to be. We must summon the better angels of our nature and press together toward higher ground.
As Isaiah 62 reminds, “I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.”
And as much as this reminds me of “somebody’s hurting our people and we won’t be silent anymore”, it also reminds me of another favorite movement song. One that leaders of Rise St. James in Cancer Alley, Louisiana and the United Workers in Baltimore, Maryland and some many other today and throughout history have sung:
“Victory is mine. Victory is mine. I told poverty, racism, to get thee behind. Because victory today is mine.”
Congress is debating voting rights right now. They are dragging their feet to invest in the people, extend the child tax credit, expand health care, and provide paid sick leave. But as we said at our launch for June 18th Mass Poor People’s and Low Wage Worker’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington and also in a rolling vigil for voting rights and economic justice, victory is our deadline. And when we win, what a day it will be!