At a forum broadcast live on CNN last spring, Sojourners editor-in-chief Jim Wallis asked then-Sen. Barack Obama if he would commit to the goal of cutting poverty in half in 10 years. Sen. Obama responded, “I absolutely will make that commitment. Understand that when I make that commitment, I do so with great humility because it is a very ambitious goal. And we’re going to have to mobilize our society not just to cut poverty, but to prevent more people from slipping into poverty.”
Too often, poverty becomes just a post-election afterthought, but President Obama’s answer provides an unprecedented political opening—one that requires even greater leadership from the faith community.
Now the threat facing low-income families has become even more acute, with the economic crisis devastating many families across America. Our new president must pay attention not only to the current struggles of the middle class, but also to the nearly 37 million people who were already below the poverty line and struggling to make ends meet before the recession started. Increasing hunger represents just one warning sign of the troubles to come: The number of people on food stamps went up by 2.6 million from August 2007 to August 2008.
From April 26 to 29, Sojourners is convening a gathering of thousands of people of faith in Washington, D.C., to demonstrate our support for the goal Obama articulated and to hold the new Congress and administration accountable to that vision. The Mobilization to End Poverty, aided by sponsors including World Vision, The ONE Campaign, Oxfam, and others, has the potential to be a historic moment in the fight against poverty at home and around the world.
As President Obama celebrates his 100th day in office, 2,000 people—young and old, African-American, Latino, white, and Asian—will gather in the nation’s capital to raise their voices for economic justice. Evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Catholics, and people from black and Latino churches will come together with a united voice, urging our nation’s leaders to act on the commitment to cut poverty in half over the next 10 years and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
Speakers for the gathering include Tavis Smiley, Jeffrey Sachs, and Angela Glover Blackwell, along with other entertainers, clergy, politicians, and activists. There will also be some longtime Sojourners favorites, including Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, Rep. John Lewis, and Alexia Kelley.
President Obama has been invited to address the Mobilization with his plan for reducing poverty. If he is unable to attend, then the entire Mobilization and hundreds of other concerned individuals from the area will march to the White House and hold a faith-based rally seeking greater presidential leadership on poverty reduction.
The Mobilization will be focused not just on accountability, but on action. Trainings will equip attendees for a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill. Pressure will be put on lawmakers to follow through on their campaign promises and to take an active role in creating policies that reduce poverty.
History has been made with the election of President Obama—now there is an opportunity to make history in the fight against poverty. President Obama will face a mountain of problems and pressures; our voices are needed to focus attention on the moral imperative for bold leadership.
The Mobilization to End Poverty is calling on those who care for those left behind and left out of our economy to ask our nation’s leadership to make poverty reduction a national priority. Who will act in alignment with the words of our president—that our nation must mobilize to help our brothers and sisters in need? Who will respond to Jesus’ call to proclaim good news to the poor, if not the church? Sojourners is responding to this historic moment. Will you join us? —Amber Hill
Amber Hill is co-chair of The Mobilization to End Poverty steering committee.