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PC(USA) leaders help announce bus tour to show ‘real emergency’

Poor People’s Campaign cross-country event will highlight poverty, racism and other issues

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

A screenshot shows, in front left to right, the Rev. Denise Anderson, the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, and Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner during Monday’s announcement of a national bus tour by the Poor People’s Campaign to discuss what it says is the nation’s true emergency.

LOUISVILLE — Leaders from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Racial & Intercultural Justice ministry and Office of Public Witness participated in a Monday morning announcement by The Poor People’s Campaign that it will be embarking on a National Emergency Poverty and Truth Bus Tour in the coming months.

“We will be hitting more than 28 states coast-to-coast, region-to-region highlighting the poverty, the racism, the ecological devastation, and the militarism that our elected leaders would rather ignore, or in some cases make worse,” said the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, a PC(USA) minister who is co-chair of The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

Also speaking at the Washington, D.C. news conference was the Rev. Denise Anderson, coordinator for Racial and Intercultural Justice, who said, “When we are concerned with our social policy as a church, we understand that the church — if it is to remain true to its biblical roots, theological heritage, and contemporary practice – must not fall silent. The biblical witness is thorough in its call to justice. Justice is mentioned over 2,800 times in the sacred text of our tradition. So that should suggest something about how urgent justice is to God, and if it is urgent to God, then it should be urgent to us.

“And when justice is stifled,” Anderson said, “then that becomes our emergency as the church.”

Both Anderson and the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins of the Office of Public Witness, who was also present at the ecumenical announcement, said they likely will participate in some tour stops. They’re not sure at this time where or when.

The impetus for the bus tour is President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to secure funding for a wall along the United States’ southern border with Mexico. Trump has maintained that the wall is necessary to curb a crisis of illegal immigration and crime perpetrated by people entering the country. Statistics show that illegal immigration is actually falling and the crime rate is lower among immigrants that among native born U.S. citizens.

Poor People’s Campaign leaders denounced the wall effort in no uncertain terms.

“The president and his enablers have decided to exploit a racist lie that there is an emergency of Spanish-speaking people at our southern border trying to get in the country,” said the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. “The real emergency is already in the country.”

Barber and others said the crisis at hand includes poverty, healthcare, ecological disasters and more.

“Yes, there is a crisis at the border, my friends, and it is not just one of migration or immigration,” Anderson said. “It’s that too many of the workers along the border make only $7.25 an hour. Who can live off of that? It’s that Texas, a border state, refuses to expand Medicaid, and too many of her people cannot even go to the doctor. It’s that children are being separated from their families, and we’re not even trying to reunite them. That’s the crisis at the border.

“The Preamble to the Constitution of these United States says that it was ordained to ‘establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense and promote our general welfare.’ This manufactured crisis is not about defense. The same energy isn’t kept for domestic terrorists. This is not about the welfare or the common good of our people; not when a working government is used as a bargaining chip and too many of our own citizens are then thrown into financial ruin. And there is no establishment of justice when our brown siblings to the south are scapegoated for all of society’s ills.

“We name this racist injustice for exactly what it is: a ruse, a waste, and the true emergency we must confront!”

In their statements, Campaign leaders invoked Scripture, particularly Isaiah 10 and Matthew 25.

“In the words of the Prophet Isaiah, it is very clear what we are to do, which is to do good, to devote ourselves to do justice and to undo all that are wrong, to uphold the rights of the orphan and defend the case of the widow — the widow and the orphan, who are most vulnerable,” said the Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “Yet Isaiah in his time called out the authorities and said, your rulers are rogues and cronies of thieves. Every one of them is in love with presents and chasing gifts, yet they ignore the case of the widow, they ignore the cause of the widow and the orphan and Adonai will bring, our holy One will bring this charge against the elders and the officers of God’s people: You have ravaged the vineyard. That which was robbed from the poor is in your houses. How dare you crush my people and grind the faces of the poor.” (Isaiah 1:23, 3: 14-15)

“In the name of a fake emergency,” he said, “our leaders are grinding the face of the poor.”

The bus tour will make a point of stopping in parts of the country impacted by poverty, ecological disasters and other emergencies, Theoharis said. A precise schedule of the tour and participants has not been released. Barber, nearing the end of the announcement, told listeners to text “moral” to 90975 to sign up for Campaign updates and information.

While poverty has long been an issue in the United States, Barber said the campaign is sounding the alarm now because the current administration is pursuing policies that make things worse.

“That is the emergency of our politics and our souls, and it’s not just that people are poor,” Barber said. “It’s not just that people live with raw sewage in their yards. It’s not just that people make $7.25, and they don’t make a living wage. These policies and this refusal to address these issues murder people.”

“Now, that’s strong language, but it’s Biblical language, if you read the prophets,” Barber said. “Over a quarter million people die every year from poverty — more than die from cancer or heart attacks. According to many studies, something like 2,500 (to) 2,800 people die for every 500,000 people denied healthcare in the richest nation in the world. These are real emergencies.”


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