Calling for a New Poor People’s Campaign in Grays Harbor County, WA
On Thursday July 14th, as part of our second “State of the Streets” event, Chaplains on the Harbor announced our official endorsement of the New Poor People’s campaign. The evening opened with a home-cooked meal, prayer, and song as over fifty of us gathered at our little blue church in downtown Westport.
The Rev. Sarah Monroe kicked off the program with a theological reminder of who we are, as Jesus’ people, and why the Jesus movement was a poor people’s movement. Aaron Scott, organizer at Chaplains on the Harbor, followed with our official endorsement of the New Poor People’s Campaign, highlighting roots of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign in Grays Harbor County. The Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel, Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, laid out ground rules for the evening and read out loud a piece from one of our members on her experience as a young homeless woman. Phoebe Olivera, also on staff at Chaplains on the Harbor, powerfully shared her testimony on surviving the criminal justice system, homelessness, regaining custody of her children, and celebrating eleven years clean and sober.
About a dozen other community members spoke from the floor on their experiences of incarceration, homelessness, unemployment, addiction, domestic violence, mistreatment within the health care system, lack of mental health support, trouble securing their social security and disability incomes, and fighting for their tenant rights as RV park residents. A young woman currently in custody at one of the local jails sent in a letter to be read out loud for the audience, detailing the abysmal jail conditions and the rights violations against inmates occurring there. After all our local people had a chance to speak Colleen Wessel-McCoy and Dan Jones of the Kairos Center (joining us by video conference) shared words of encouragement and solidarity from across the country, describing other poor people’s organizations fighting for the same basic issues of survival and dignity as we are right here in Grays Harbor County WA. Colleen particularly noted the clarity with which our members understand ourselves as deserving of basic care and respect because we, like all people, are children of God with inherent worth.
We closed in prayer, singing together from memory four verses of “Amazing Grace” and lighting candles for the people, the burdens, and the hopes on our hearts. We at Chaplains on the Harbor are clearer than ever about the need for a social movement to end poverty that is led by poor people themselves. While we grieve the depths of suffering in our midst, we rejoice at the growing power and momentum that is breaking through right now in poor communities all over this country. We know that we are stronger together and we believe that, together, we will win the full abolition of poverty.
For more video footage of the evening, check out our YouTube channel.