Mainers march Congress Street to highlight systemic injustice in preparation for the D.C. Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March

By Ramona du Houx

On Thursday, October 10, co-chairs Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, directly impacted leaders, and moral agents of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival (www.poorpeoplescampaign.org) came to Portland, ME, as part of the “We Must Do MORE: Mobilizing, Organizing, Registering, and Educating National Tour (www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/more).

Maine was the third stop on the tour of 25 states between now and June 2020 to shine a light on the interlocking injustices that impact all Americans. Over 140 million (which includes 545,000 Mainers) live on the edge of survival: systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation, militarism, the war economy, and the distorted national narrative of religious nationalism.

The Campaign leaders met with Portland’s most impacted residents in the West Bayside area of the city, to hear their stories, several of which highlighted the terrible, soul-shattering toll homelessness exacts on our community and family members’ health, wellbeing, sense of belonging, and capacity to continue living.

One woman described how being poor has made her homeless and therefore reliant on a local homeless shelter, where one of the rules is that she must keep her belongings with her at all times. When she couldn't watch her belongings they were thrown away, including her cremated father’s ashes.

Another resident shared his keen awareness of having come to be considered not a citizen or even a human being, but an eyesore to be “cured” by gentrification.

A local street preacher described the weekly services he offers in the area as services “conducted at the intersection of the dumpster and the chain link fence.”

Near sunset hundreds of  marchers of all ages, races, genders, backgrounds gathered in solidarity in Lincoln Park with signs and banners, to demonstrate their commitment to the Poor People’s Campaign’s social justice goals (www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/demands).

Accompanied by a lively New Orleans-style brass band, the marchers moved slowly down Congress St. to the church. Inside, Yara Allen, Director of Theomusicology & Cultural Arts at Repairers of the Breach in North Carolina (www.breachrepairers.org), led the energized crowd in songs that came out of the Civil Rights Movement but still resonate so powerfully today.

Dr. Theoharis, director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary in New York (www.kairoscenter.org) described the interlocking injustices of systemic racism, systemic poverty, militarism and the war economy, and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism. He highlighted their impacts here in Maine calling for an end to worshipping gold and following leaders who shun the poor in favor of wealth. Dr. Theoharis closed her remarks with a powerful call to rise up against injustice, and to help build this movement as it looks ahead to the Mass Poor People’s Assembly & Moral March on Washington in June 2020

After Dr. Theoharis came a series of short presentations by impacted Mainers from across the state: Ian Yaffe, Executive Director of Mano en Mano in Washington County; Maine PPC leader Denise Smith of Bangor; Maine PPC leader Mary Berard of Fairfield; and Movimiento Cosecha activist Elba Cruz Rivas of Portland. 

Dr. Barber reminded the audience that things do not have to be this way, and that there is plenty of untapped power available to bring about lasting, transformative change in the direction of true justice.

The number of poor in America exceeds the number of people who voted in the 2016 presidential election by far. Not enough voters excersize thier birthright to vote. There is power in voting, it what makes democracy work.

 “We are not a people who quit! We must show America another way!”  said Barber. “We have the power, we just need to use it. We must rise out of bed and get to work!”

Dr. Barber called for people to join the National Call for Moral Revival, in Washington, D.C., on June 20, 2020 to demonstrate unequivocally to our political leaders, in advance of the November 2020 election, the growing power of a peaceful army of the poor and their allies.