‘She speaks’ seeks to center women’s voices on the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington

The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, a Presbyterian pastor and the co-founder of the Poor People’s Campaign, is among the three dozen speakers

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

“She Speaks” was an effort to give women voice 60 years after the March on Washington. (Photo by Unseen Histories via Unsplash)

LOUISVILLE — Righting a wrong from its celebrated predecessor 60 years ago, when just one woman was invited to speak during the March on Washington, about three dozen women spoke Monday on the 60th anniversary of the original march during “She Speaks,” billed as “a virtual assembly to fight for the same demands that were made 60 years ago, demands that our nation’s leaders have yet to fulfill.”

“She Speaks,” put on by Repairers of the Breach along with partners Black Votes Matter, the League of Women Voters and Beloved Community Center, can be viewed here. The event lasts about two hours.

Bishop William J. Barber II, president of Repairers of the Breach and the co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign along with the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, a Presbyterian pastor and the director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights & Social Justice, introduced the event, saying the speakers “are getting ready to put words into actions because they can’t be silent anymore.”

The Rev. Dr. Hanna Broome

Fifty million women live in poverty in the United States, said the Rev. Dr. Hanna Broome, national director of religious affairs for Repairers of the Breach, and tens of thousands of people die each year due to their lack of access to health care. “Sixty years later, we come not to have a celebration of nostalgic fellowship, but to declare we need mass protest across the country,” Broome said. “We demand you listen.”

Roz Pelles, the assistant director for student engagement and lecturer at the Center for Public Theology and Public Policy at the Yale University Divinity School, recalled attending the 1963 march as a 14-year-old. “We were united to make our collective voices heard. It was a pivotal day for the movement,” Pelles said. Even as a 14-year-old, Pelles analyzed the day after returning home. “I wondered why we had heard from so few women,” Pelles said. “Women old and young were national leaders, but their voices were muted that day.”

Virginia Kase Solomón

Virginia Kase Solomón, CEO of the League of Women Voters, noted that “our children have less rights than we had 50 years ago. … The 60th anniversary is a powerful moment. Women, our voices were missing that day. This is the opportunity to right that wrong.”

Joyce Hobson Johnson, co-executive director of the Beloved Community Center, has learned “from the women in my life that all life is valuable, and if we work together, we can all make a way out of no way to achieve our God-given potential. … Our struggle must be for the beloved community, where the potential of all God’s children is realized. All we need is right here.”

“We have to demand we have voting rights and get engaged at every level — local, state and federal,” said LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Votes Matter. “We have to recommit ourselves. We’re called to speak to the dry bones so people can live again. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

“Let’s pray and come together and be one,” said Vanessa Nosie, a member of Apache Stronghold. “One drum, one prayer, one circle.”

“We don’t have any more time for the foolishness of dismantling the truth and for toxic leadership,” said Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. “Democracy is no longer in danger — it’s on life support.”

Ai-jen Poo

Ai-jen Poo, president and founder of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, said it’s the work of domestic workers “that makes all other work possible in our economy.” Today, Poo said, most domestic workers earn less than $12 per hour. “Many who were part of the March on Washington were domestic workers,” Poo said. “To this day we continue that fight, the commitment for dignity.”

Dr. Xellex Rivera, chief program officer of the Bronx Parent Housing Network, said many in the country “are one check away from being homeless. I challenge you to consider a nation without poverty.”

The Rev. Teresa Hord Owens

The Rev. Teresa Hord Owens, general minister and president of the Chirstian Church (Disciples of Christ), lamented that “the American dream is not only deferred, it’s ready to explode. Today we lift our voices to say, ‘America still has not kept its promises,’ and we will not be silent. We call on America to be the country we say we are. May God grant us enough courage, wisdom and love to make sure America lives up to its ideals.”

Sheila Katz

“We will not lose sight of the world we know we can build together,” said Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women. The organizations that gathered Monday “are fighting for a country where our rights are not up to debate. May we always remember we who seek justice are the majority in this country.”

Joy Reid, the host of MSNBC’s “The ReidOut,” said the first March on Washington was “so much more” than what it’s been reduced to, “250,000 people gathered and a few lines from Dr. King’s speech.”

“It was a demand on the president and Congress to act, not just for racial and civic justice, but also for economic justice, to say Black folk in particular should not be subjected to economic want, the basic dignity of being a citizen, and that had to change,” Reid said. That message “came from the moral center,” the descendants of people formerly enslaved. “When we get justice, we share justice,” Reid said. “Let’s reconnect with the moral demands of that march.”

The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis

“It’s clear the promise has not been realized,” Theoharis said, “not in a rich nation where kids are going hungry, where women and LGBTQ folk are under attack and millions of people, including veterans, have no place to call home.” The people behind the scenes who helped organized the March on Washington “did the slow and thankless work of showing up,” Theoharis said. “Fight poverty and not the poor. The struggle continues.”

The Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson

“The urgency of 60 years ago is still with us,” said the Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson, general minister of the United Church of Christ, “but there is nothing too hard for our God. We will continue the march started then until all are flourishing and living with dignity.”

The Very Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, recently retired from Union Theological Seminary, recalled her mother calling her children to the living room to watch King “proclaim his urgent dream” 60 years before. Her mother’s dream “was the same dream he had — a dream to live in a world free of anti-Black racial hatred, where they can live freely into whatever God created them to be … We face ‘the urgency of now’ today. It begins today, compelling us to tell the truths of the brutal realities of racism, sexism and homophobia in this country.”

“We have made significant strides, but we have witnessed enormous setbacks in the past few years. Racism and white supremacy persist. Social and economic disparities are legacies of slavery and colonialism,” said Dr. Keisha Blain, professor of Africana Studies and History at Brown University. “We must never forget the strength, courage and perseverance of those who came together on Aug. 28, 1963, who left a legacy on which we can now build. Let us renew our commitment to building an inclusive and multiracial democracy.”

“It’s a moral shame we must still gather to declare our moral rights,” said Kait Ziegler, national organizing co-director of Repairers of the Breach. “We are still a nation in crisis, a nation that needs a mass movement for jobs and freedom.”

“Put on your armor of justice, the armor our forefathers and foremothers laid out for us. We have to finish the fight that they started,” said Pam Garrison, tri-chair for the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign.

The Rev. A. Kazimir Brown

“We don’t have another 60 years to wait for the solutions we know to be impactful to be implemented today,” said the Rev. A. Kazimir Brown, executive director and vice president of Repairers of the Breach. Brown urged viewers to join a community cause and register to vote. “We all can do our part,” Brown said, “and if we do it today, we are making sure tomorrow is better for everyone.”

“Our agenda is a life-saving agenda,” Broome said. “When our voices unite, change is inevitable.”

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