Director of Office of Public Witness among those taking part
by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE – An estimated 80,000 people crowded the streets of Raleigh, North Carolina over the weekend to take part in the 11th annual Forward Together Moral March, led by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II. Organizers say it was the largest crowed in the march’s history.
Among those participating was the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, who recently became director for the Office of Public Witness (OPW) in Washington, D.C.
“It was exhilarating to say the least to be in the midst of those committed to rallying around the call to justice,” said Hawkins. “We gathered to lift our voices in opposition to policies which were damaging to the well-being of the most vulnerable in our world.”
The crowd consisted of individuals, churches, non-profit organizations, young and older adults and people of different cultures. Posters denounced policies connected to the refugee issue, living wages, LGBTQ rights and women’s reproductive health among other issues.
“It was of great importance for the OPW to be part of this march because Presbyterians have had a long, rich and varied history of participating in actions supporting civil rights,” said Hawkins. “I reconnected with PC(USA) clergy from across the state of North Carolina including Durham, Greensboro, Charlotte, Dudley and Chapel Hill.”
Hawkins said it was important the OPW attend and participate in these marches but also continue to advocate before Congress and partner with ecumenical and interfaith coalitions to develop local strategies for activism.
“This march sends a message that people are paying attention to what is happening on both the local and national political stage and what many see as disturbing,” he said. “Especially people of faith who want their Christian values to play a redeeming role in the wider society.”
Hawkins said Americans want a country where everyone is treated equally and given opportunity to advance.
“We see certain groups and individuals reap more than what they deserve while millions struggle to simply make a living,” said Hawkins. “Christians want to live in a land where compassion and justice are the norms, not the exceptions.”
The North Carolina march was a homecoming for Hawkins who, until joining the OPW, served as pastor of the Covenant Presbyterian Church in New Hope Presbytery. He said citizens have been traumatized by state laws and policies including refusal to expand Medicaid, low teacher pay, voting restrictions and more.
“Frustration has been increased by the recent presidential executive orders, especially the refugee ban. Those filled with righteous anger were relieved to know they are not alone,” Hawkins said. “This was a concerted and unified effort to demand that our country protect the rights of migrant and refugee, protect voting rights and support the poor.”
The march was organized by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP.
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