Commentary
By Michael Mershon 4-28-2017

On Saturday, tens of thousands of people are expected to gather in Washington, D.C., as part of the People’s Climate March. Sojourners will be among them, adding our voices in support of action to address climate change, jobs, and justice. We believe — we know — that climate change disproportionately impacts those whom Jesus called “the least of these” in Matthew 25. 

Climate change makes hunger worse. It makes access to clean water harder. It exacerbates refugee crises and leads to millions of internally displaced people. We have served on the steering committee for the march and have helped organize the faith community’s participation. If you’re in town, look for us on 3rd St. NW in front of the Capitol building.

On Monday, we will be involved in the May Day for Action for Immigrants and Workers. We will march through the streets of Washington to the White House, to let the current president know that we will not be silent in the face of racism, xenophobia, and inhumane policies of deportation, walls, and family separation.

Sojourners has a long and proud history of public protest — and even civil disobedience. Our organization was born from the student protest movements for Civil Rights and against the Vietnam War. We protested nuclear weapons and American involvement in Central America in the 1980s. We marched against the Iraq War in 2003. Sojourners’ call to put faith in action for social justice has always included action in the streets.

Marching allows us to manifest embodied solidarity. In a world increasingly defined by technology-based communication, communal protest puts our bodies into common space for a common cause. We link our arms, walk the same streets, and rediscover the gift of fellowship. And satellite marches in cities around the country and world can serve as powerful organizing opportunities.

Ideally, a good protest march also draws attention to the cause through social and earned media. It can tell a climate activist or immigrant-rights campaigner in politically-unfriendly territory that they are not alone, and that there are millions of others out there who share their values and commitments.

But marching, however earnest, is not enough. A protest is only as impactful as the organizing, advocacy, and political activism it creates and inspires. Without the accompaniment of consistent political engagement, public protest can be dismissed as a pop-up performance or a one-off theater piece performed by the usual suspects. We cannot allow that.

We have already seen the power of local organizing. The Republican leadership in the House of Representatives have abandoned (for now) their effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, not because of a million-person march through the streets of Washington but because smaller groups of dozens and hundreds of constituents raised their voices in district offices and town hall meetings and phone calls and letters to the editor of local newspapers.

So come to Washington! Join us! Bring your walking shoes, your sunscreen and a sustainable, non-BPA water bottle! On Saturday, we march for the environment. On Monday, we march for immigrants and workers.

But the next day and the next after that, let us go back to the hard and tedious and slow and absolutely essential work of building a sustainable movement for change.

Michael Mershon is Director of Advocacy and Communications at Sojourners.

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