The RRA recently became a partner of the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC). In the last two weeks the PPC has coordinated rallies and acts of civil disobedience in over 30 state capitals, including the participation of over 15 RRA members.
I was honored to participate in the PPC demonstration and civil action in Washington DC on May 21. Along with Christian Clergy and Reform Rabbis, I went to the Capitol building to demand that congress pay attention to the plight of working, poor and struggling people. We were particularly focused on the issue of voter suppression and voter intimidation – now at highest levels since Jim Crow.
This demonstration and action felt different to me than others in which I have participated. For one thing, although 14 of our colleagues were simultaneously engaged in similar work around the country (in Harrisburg, PA, Olympia, WA, Topeka, KS and Lansing, MI) I was participating on my own. I wasn’t there with a cadre of friends, colleagues and supporters. This meant that I was pushed to engage with the other folk present – other clergy, yes – but also the impacted people who had come from North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland to be a part of the action. In order to be supported and feel safe in the work, I had to meet strangers and open up to them as fellow activists in a way I am not often pushed to do.
Rabbi Jeremy Schwartz protesting with the Poor People’s Campaign
Secondly, a key feature of the PPC is to have impacted people in leadership and at the forefront of the campaign. They did not want us marching in with clergy bunched up at the front and everyone else behind. They wisely paired us off, one clergy with one other person, to march in and participate in the action. That’s how Dominique from North Carolina became my partner and buddy for the day. Dominique, I learned, is a 22-year-old African American student. She had to drop out of college because of “family stuff” and now works at McDonalds. She doesn’t like the job, but says, “at least I have one!” She came to DC as part of the Fight for $15 Coalition, a group of working and poor citizens pushing for a $15 minimum wage in North Carolina. She had never been to DC before and was a little nervous – but also excited. She is a chant leader in her church and jumped at the opportunity to lead some chanting at the rally. She is also a great dancer and pulled us up on the stage with the speakers to dance and sing for justice and freedom.
Unfortunately, I lost track of Dominique before I could get her contact information, but I was delighted to get to know her – her energy, her passion and her clear understanding of the need to get involved to make a difference in her own life was moving and inspiring. She kept me dancing in the hot sun for over an hour and I am forever grateful I had the chance to connect with her.
Rabbi Brant Rosen protesting with the Poor People’s Campaign
If part of the purpose of the PPC is to place impacted people at the forefront and get those of us privileged people of conscience to see beyond our own bubble, then the campaign is already a success. There is so much more work to do, but I am honored to be on the journey.
These 40 days of action are the kickoff for a sustained campaign that will include massive voter registration and mobilization focused on poor and working-poor people. The goal is to build power and unity among poor people and those most impacted by injustice alongside clergy and other moral leaders and people of conscience. This is a place where rabbis can play an important role as moral leaders today.
To watch the video of my speech at the protest, click here.
(Written with information provided by Rabbi Mordechai Liebling