‘We have nothing to lose but our chains’

Women speak out at Poor People’s Campaign march and get arrested

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, Co-Moderator of the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is led away by police during the Women’s Moral March on Washington. (Photo courtesy of the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations)

LOUISVILLE — Singing freedom songs and fighting for voting rights and a living wage on Monday, women from around the country converged on Washington, D.C., for a march and season of action by the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) and its supporters.

Failing to heed calls by Capitol Police to disperse, much of the crowd was arrested after marching about a block and a half and blocking traffic while singing lyrics such as “Somebody’s hurting my sister and it’s gone on for far too long.”

The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, said she was one of about 75 people who were arrested during the Women’s Moral Monday March on Washington. Others included the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, Co-Moderator of the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, is led away by police. (Photo courtesy of the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations)

“It was an honor to join with women from across the United States in nonviolent moral fusion direct action,” said Kohlmann, Connectional Presbyter and Stated Clerk of New Castle Presbytery. “Together, we put our bodies on the line in the pursuit of justice and liberation for all, not just the privileged few.”

The march (watch here) drew participants from more than 35 states and dozens of organizations, labor unions, denominations and congregations, singing lyrics such as “We have nothing to lose but our chains,” according to the PPC. The four main goals:

  • Ending the Senate filibuster
  • Passing all the provisions of the stalled For the People Act
  • Fully restoring the 1965 Voting Rights Act
  • Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

During initial remarks near the U.S. Supreme Court building, participants lamented that ground is being lost when it comes to voting rights and that many Americans are struggling to get by on meager wages.

Members of the crowd shouted, “That ain’t right,” as Mindy Bergeron-Lawrence of the Maine Poor People’s Campaign described her experience in the fast-food industry.

“I’ve worked at McDonald’s for 18 years and still don’t make a living wage, and during that time, I have seen countless women working hard to take care of their families and struggling to make ends meet,” she said. “They work two jobs, they receive food stamps and some talk casually about going to the food pantry or filling up on bread so that their children can have a nutritious meal.”

The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, speaks at the Women’s Moral Monday March on Washington July 19. (Screenshot)

Theoharis pointed to the “immoral obstructionism” of Congress as she declared that “our democracy is in peril” and that “economic justice is being denied.”

“The extremist politicians who are oppressing and stealing our ability to vote are the same politicians who deny living wages, refuse to expand health care, exploit immigrants and LGBTQIA people and women, and so we march,” said Theoharis, director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary. “We march for our children. We march for our elders. We march for our families. We march for our partners. We march for our communities. We march because it is immoral — it is wrong — to take away our voting rights and to steal the promise of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness for absolutely everyone. We march so that we can move forward together, not one step back.”

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, Associate Director of Advocacy for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), stands with the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, who is co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign with the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. (Courtesy of the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations)

In support, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the PPC, shouted, “Listen to the women. America, here are your leaders. If they birth us our children, they can rebirth America. These women are showing the way.”

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, Associate Director of Advocacy for the PC(USA), attended the event as a witness and said he was inspired to see a strong Presbyterian presence.

The Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, Co-Moderator of the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, Associate Director of Advocacy for the PC(USA), at the Women’s Moral Monday March on Washington. (Photo courtesy of the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations)

“To witness the faith and passion of a movement being led by women of faith from every area of society, race, socioeconomic status, and educational level was tremendously inspirational,” he said. “This is not a one-time effort and being part of such a movement is motivational to my work.”

Kohlmann explained the spiritual basis for participating. “Jesus said in John 10:10b, ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ I believe Jesus means for that to be true here and now, in this world, and I believe that we are called as the body of Christ to do everything we can to establish God’s beloved kin-dom for all people. Today’s action and my subsequent arrest were my effort to move us a little step closer to that vision.”

To sign an open letter to senators or learn more about the PPC’s Season of Nonviolent Moral Direct Action, which will include an Aug. 2 action with faith leaders and others, go here.


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