On Sunday, a group of people gathered at National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C., to launch a new Poor People’s Campaign. Inspired by Dr. King’s 1968 campaign of the same name, people had come from as far as Washington State to demand an end to systemic racism, poverty, and the “nation’s distorted morality.”
But May 13 was more than a launch date.
“Today is Mother’s Day,” Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, said to the crowd. “A holiday established by women with a rich history of activism and resistance, who called for an end to violence and won. Standing in our nation’s capital, I have a question for our country: Is denying healthcare to mothers and their children a way to show love to mothers?”
The crowd erupted into cheers. A woman wearing a fanny pack covered with buttons reading “Medicare for All” and “Black Lives Matter” stood up in her pew.
“There’s a powerful story from the Bible in Luke 18,” Theoharis said. “[It’s about] a poor woman who keeps petitioning a powerful politician for justice for her and her community. The story tells us that the powerful politician has no compassion for people. But this persistent poor woman won’t be silent. She prays with her feet. She protests for justice. She keeps coming back. She comes back with signs. She comes back with songs. She comes back with stories. She comes back with her children and her whole community. And she wins justice.”
Theoharis’ message was clear: Mothers are powerful.
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, who founded the campaign with Theoharis, also had a mother on his mind: his own. “Eighty-five years old, and she is still working at the school she desegregated in 1970,” he said.
“On this Mother’s Day, we are here to birth and launch a movement. …This is not a commemoration of the Poor People’s Campaign. This is a re-consecration.”
In Michigan, North Carolina, and 38 other states, women are organizing. Beginning Monday, they are sharing their stories on the steps of state capitol buildings across the nation as part of the campaign’s 40 Days of Moral Action.
Standing on the lawn of the Capitol Building on Monday afternoon, Rebecca Wood of Charlottesville, Va., handed her daughter, Charlie, a bottle of bubbles. Charlie was born at just 26 weeks. Now, about to turn six, Charlie suffers from health complications due to her prematurity. The costs of her care have financially devastated the family. “We’ve lost so much even with insurance and waiver,” Wood told Sojourners. “Healthcare is a human right.”
Hope Alvarado, a lead organizer with The Red Nation, traveled from her home in New Mexico to be in D.C. for the first day of the campaign. “New Mexico is 49th in child well-being, not including 25 indigenous communities,” Alvarado said. “There is a lot of violence against women and children because of the extraction industry and fracking. What happens to our earth, happens to women.”
As a woman in the crowd balanced a baby on her hip, Callie Greer, a mother from Selma, Ala. took the stage. Her daughter Venus died because she was unable to access healthcare.
“I asked Rev. Liz Theoharis what that woman’s name was in the Bible — the woman who is in the streets wailing. Because I’m wailing,” she said. “I’m wailing because my babies ain’t no more. How many more babies? How many more children?”
On Sunday, Theoharis also compared the crowd to the biblical woman in Luke 18. “We will keep coming back,” she said. “We demand justice ... and I believe we will win.”