Poor People’s Campaign National Co-Chairs Come to Portland

“Forward together, not one step back!” chanted the more than 300 people who gathered in Portland’s Lincoln Park last night to march down Congress Street with Rev. Dr. William Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis (pictured left), co-chairs of the National Call for Moral Revival.  Portland was the third stop on the Campaign’s national tour, which is designed to unite people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and what they call “the nation’s distorted morality.” 

The Board of Directors of the Maine Council of Churches, led by President Bonny Rodden who carried a sign bearing the Council’s emblem, a rainbow flag and the words “Dignity for All,” walked alongside Bishop Thomas Brown, John Hennessy and others carrying the banner for the Episcopal Diocese of Maine.  Maine Conference Minister for the United Church of Christ, Rev. Deborah Blood,  MUUSAN members, including Rev. Carie Johnsen, and members of local congregations like St. Ansgar Lutheran Church and HopeGateWay United Methodist Community all marched with Rev. Barber and Rev. Theoharis.  Two members of MCC’s Board, Diane Dicranian and Rev. Dr. Jodi Hayashida, serve on Maine’s coordinating committee for the Poor People’s Campaign and helped to organize last night’s event.

The marchers’ destination was First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, where they were greeted by musicians from Green Memorial AME Zion Church inviting them to join in singing “We shall not be moved” before First Parish Minister Rev. Christina Sillari offered words of welcome.

Both Rev. Barber and Rev. Theoharis delivered inspiring speeches calling people of faith and good will to take action and refuse to be silent anymore, reminding the crowd that Hebrew and Christian scriptures are clear: God will judge every nation by how they care for those on the margins.

But one of the most moving moments of the evening came when a young mother from Bangor offered her personal testimony about the realities of life in poverty.  At first, her voice quavered, and she had to pause several times to wipe away tears.  But with encouragement from the congregation, she gained confidence.  She looked out at the hundreds of people and said, “Do you want to know why I am involved with this campaign?  Because I am being heard for the first time in my life!”

Rev. Barber led the assembly in prayer, using these words from Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense

Fund—may they inspire each of us and all of us:

God help us to end poverty in our time.

The poverty of having a child with too little to eat and no place to sleep, no air, sunlight and space to breathe, bask, and grow.  The poverty of watching your child suffer hunger or get sicker and sicker and not knowing what to do or how to get help because you don’t have another dime or a car, money, or health insurance.  The poverty of working your fingers to the bone every day taking care of somebody else’s children and neglecting your own, and still not being able to pay your bills.  The poverty of having a job which does not let you afford a stable place to live and being terrified you’ll become homeless and lose your children to foster care.  …The poverty of loneliness and isolation and alienation—having no one to call or visit, tell you where to get help, assist you in getting it, or care if you’re living or dead.

The poverty of having too much and sharing too little…  The poverty of convenient blindness and deafness and indifference to others.  …The poverty of pride and ingratitude for God’s gifts …and not wanting for others what you want for yourself.  The poverty of greed for more and more and more, ignoring, blaming, and exploiting the needy, and taking from the weak to please the strong…

God help us end poverty in our time, in all its faces and places, young and old, rural, urban, suburban and small town too, and in every color of humans You have made everywhere.
God help us to end poverty in our time in all its guises—inside and out—physical and spiritual, so that all our and Your children may live the lives that You intend.