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PC(USA) advocacy director joins in Poor People’s Campaign events; you can too

Rev. Jimmie Hawkins talks about four weeks of ‘Moral Monday’ direct action events

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

Poor People’s Campaign Co-Chair the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis and PC(USA) Associate Director for Advocacy the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins lead a protest in Washington, D.C. in 2018. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Public Witness)

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, Associate Director of Advocacy in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), will be participating with the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival in four weeks of “Moral Monday” non-violent direct action events to call for voting rights and the $15 minimum wage.

The four weeks of protests and action at the national and state level is designed to put energy behind passage of the For the People Act, the expansion of protections of voting rights, and federal passage of the $15 minimum wage.

“They really want to put pressure on the administration and the Senate to go ahead and be very aggressive in having a very aggressive, progressive legislative agenda to deal with issues of poverty,” Hawkins said of the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC). “They want to have a stronger presence of the faith community speaking out for progressive legislation.”

The voting rights legislation is seen as particularly critical as state legislatures across the country have been passing laws limiting access to the ballot. The For the People Act was passed by the House of Representatives in March. It expands voter registration and access, such as early voting, and limits the removal of voters from voting rolls. It also calls for independent redistricting commissions for congressional districts, addresses campaign finance, ethics, and calls for the president, vice president, and certain candidates for those offices to disclose 10 years of tax returns. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act, named for the civil rights icon and late U.S. Representative from Georgia, is also up for consideration and supported by the PPC. It aims to restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Hawkins said that the stands the Poor People’s Campaign is taking are in line with Presbyterian policy on voting access and poverty. He said the one thing he is not joining the campaign in speaking out for is abolition of the filibuster — the Senate rule that demands a 60 vote majority to debate and pass most legislation — because the PC(USA) does not have policy on the filibuster.

With the Senate evenly divided, the Democratic majority (Vice President Kamala Harris presides over the Senate casts a tie-breaking vote when needed) is having a difficult time passing progressive legislation such as the voting bills and jobs and infrastructure bills because it still lacks the votes.

This has led to widespread calls for Democrats to end the filibuster or make it more difficult to invoke, but several Democratic senators — principally Joe Manchin (West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) — oppose that move, saying the Senate needs to work toward bipartisan agreements.

“What is happening in the Senate is an attack not just on Black people, but on everyone, especially poor and low-wage people, and on democracy itself,” Poor People’s Campaign Co-Chair the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II said in a news release. “And so, we ask the GOP and Sens. Manchin and Sinema: Which side are you on? Are you on the side of democracy and the U.S. Constitution? Or are you on the side of autocracy, dark money and the corporate elite?”

The other campaign co-chair is the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, a PC(USA) minister who is also Director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

The four weeks of action will start with a press conference on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court at 1 p.m. ET Monday with Barber, Theoharis and other participants, including Hawkins. The actions are as follows:

Watch the Poor People’s Campaign website and Facebook page for more detailed information as actions get closer. The PC(USA) will also share information through its Office of Public Witness and Compassion, Peace & Justice Facebook pages.

Hawkins first participated in Moral Mondays when he, like Barber, was a pastor in North Carolina. Moral Mondays emerged as protests against actions being taken by the state legislature in the Tar Heel State. In 2017, Barber and Theoharis revived the Poor People’s Campaign, a movement started by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shortly before his death in 1968.

Hawkins said working with the Poor People’s Campaign is a good opportunity for the PC(USA) to align with a high-profile partner that has proven impact and influence on public policy.

“The two primary focuses I hear them highlight are issues of poverty and voting rights,” he said. “It’s an avenue for us to work with one of our coalition partners on the public policy positions of the PC(USA), because when you look at them, we have the same issues. We have strong statements on poverty and rights for workers, on living wage, strong policies on voting rights with the ‘Lift Every Voice’ social witness policy statement that align perfectly with the Poor People’s Campaign.”

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