For the past two weeks I have spent my Mondays in Albany with the New York State Poor People’s Campaign. The national campaign is led by the Rev. William Barber and composed of hundreds of activist organizations and faith leaders.
It is a call for moral revival uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation, and the nation’s distorted morality.
The Campaign kicked off with 40 Days of Action in Washington D.C. and over 30 state capitals on May 14th that will continue through June 23rd. You can read more about it here: www.poorpeoplescampaign.org
When I first received the email from UUA President Rev. Susan Frederick Gray inviting Unitarian Universalists everywhere to join her in the 40 Days of Action, I hesitated. I recognized my own fear that came up when I thought about participating in nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience. But I was deeply moved by columns in our last newsletter written by Rev. Chris and Jamie Capach which challenged me to move deeper into integrity and moral courage. Recalling their words, I decided to follow the pull in my heart to participate in the campaign.
On the first day in Albany, I felt without doubt that my fear could not compare to that experienced by immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ people, and so many others whose stories I hear at our opening rally. I heard the testimony of a woman- an undocumented immigrant- who was afraid to drive her kids to school for fear she would be stopped by a police officer, and walked beside a man from Brooklyn who was negatively impacted by the loss of affordable housing in his city.
With over a hundred others, we sang- We are not afraid- in and along the streets, and listened to the testimonies and stories of those who have been harmed by systemic racism, poverty, and other societal evils. As we chanted together: Somebody’s hurting our people, and it’s gone on far too long. And we won’t be silent anymore.
That first day in Albany grounded me in a sense that my participation was a spiritual discipline, requiring intention, attention, and commitment. In fact, our training leader reminded us that discipline while marching was important to our cause, as we needed to stay centered and not react to those who would criticize or yell at us. I experienced the actions as expressions of faith, hope and solidarity, in the midst of discomfort.
The Poor People’s Campaign continues to grow as a movement of movements, of people coming together from many causes and walks of life, to recognize that we are all bound together, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “in an inescapable network of mutuality.” This, I believe, is justice as a spiritual discipline, a way of living into our interconnectedness in the movement for social change.
I will continue to participate in nonviolent direct action with the Poor People’s Campaign on June 4th and June 11th. So far, I have been glad to have spiritual companions join me, including Verne Bell and Cynthia Gilkeson from our congregation, and I welcome others who would like to join us in upcoming weeks.
In the spirit of justice and peace,