True followers of Jesus can’t help but walk in his footsteps – civil disobedience and all. Ben Brown came to LVC first as a Washington Semester intern from Wittenberg University, and then as a DC LVC Volunteer last year, serving at Faith in Public Life. Faith in Public Life (FPL) is a national network that unites clergy and faith leaders in shaping policy locally and nationally. This year, FPL is heavily engaged in Rev. Dr. William Barber’s revival of the Poor People’s Campaign, participating in acts of civil disobedience and protest across the country for a month of “Moral Mondays”, beginning in May. On May 21st, Ben participated in and was arrested during an action for voting rights, Indigenous rights, and immigrant rights. Here’s his story.
“I learned about the Poor People’s Campaign through my LVC placement, Faith in Public Life, here in DC. Faith in Public Life is a partner of the Poor People’s Campaign and almost every week one of our staff members has participated in the Civil Disobedience Moral Fusion Direct Action here in DC and in Columbus, Ohio. Personally, I had been discerning whether or not and when I should put my body on the line and risk arrest by participating in Civil Disobedience since before the Poor People’s Campaign, Faith in Public Life’s CEO was arrested while fighting to preserve the Affordable Care Act and our Catholic and Latino Program Directors were arrested separately fighting to defend DREAMers. I decided to participate in Civil Disobedience with the Poor People’s Campaign because I believe deeply in their principles and their style of national organizing which is grassroots and led by impacted people all over the country. I participated in the second week of action, which was focused on the moral fusion issues of Voting Rights, Indigenous Rights, and immigrant rights which I feel deeply called to defend in solidarity and as a matter of my own faith. I was so moved while witnessing the actions of the first week here in DC on their livestream while Faith in Public Life’s VP was arrested in the street outside the Capitol that I decided May 21st was my turn to participate.
I gathered with 70 plus other folks and FPL’s Development Director (my supervisor) at an Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill where we spent all morning being briefed on the legal aspects of our action as well as the historical and current backdrop that compelled us all to take part in this action. At 1 PM we gathered in the fellowship hall of the church and heard from impacted persons and the Rev. Jesse Jackson on why we were going to go to the US Capitol Rotunda and the message we were bringing there. We then rallied on the US Capitol Grounds with the US Capitol and Capitol Police as our backdrop while impacted people fiercely cried out for justice and demanded a better, moral way from Congress.
We demanded the immediate restoration of the Voting Rights Act gutted in 2015 – removing key provisions protecting the right to vote across the United States and opening the floodgates for voter suppression laws across the country.
We demanded the recognition of sovereign, indigenous lands and protection of the water rights of those lands.
We demanded a compassionate immigration policy that prioritizes people, protects DREAMers, grants a pathway to citizenship and turns away from nationalistic, racist enforcement-only immigration policies.
We sang and chanted and danced a little too – after all, Rev. Barber says that you can’t protest without a little joy too and don’t trust an activist who doesn’t know how to dance.
At 3pm, we lined up 2-by-2 and began to process in silence into the Capitol. Gradually, we all filtered into the US Capitol Rotunda, surrounded by police and tourists, and began echoing the demands of our movement as they were delivered by Revs. William Barber, Jesse Jackson and Liz Theoharis and Rabbi Jonah Pesner of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism. As we began to shout, the cameras of the tourists around us turned from the murals on the walls to our disruption. The police then began to move between us to try and split us up and discourage us from continuing by threatening us with arrest. No one moved. Then they tried to stop us by arresting our leaders Revs. Barber, Jackson, Theoharis and Rabbi Pesner. But we knew this would happen so we began singing and chanting as led by a Fight for $15 organizer.
Once we were all arrested and rounded up they brought us out to the front of the Capitol where our friends and the rest of the Poor People’s Campaign were waiting. We were already under arrest, it made no sense to stop chanting and singing so we didn’t. We sang so Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could hear us from their Capitol offices. We sang for over an hour until everyone of us was processed and handed our tickets. In response to our action we were only held for 2 hours and no one was handcuffed, but not every state was so fortunate. The next day we learned that a faith leader in Albany, New York was sent to the hospital after he was beaten while in custody of the police there for his participation in the Poor People’s Campaign actions at the New York State Capitol. In DC, this time, we were let off easy.
I feel deeply that the Poor People’s Campaign calls all people of faith, and as I am a Christian and a Lutheran, it especially calls us Lutheran Christians to action. As Lutherans we are dealt a double dosage of civil disobedience heritage first in Jesus who regularly participated in civil disobedience in the name of justice. But we are reminded again of the holy work of disrupting injustice in the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who spied on the Nazi regime and plotted a coup against it, in Leymah Gbowee who made peace for Liberia by disrupting the government policies of war, in Gudina Tumsa of Ethiopia who disrupted the injustice and absolutism of his government and died for it. As an alum of LVC, I am reminded regularly that that year of community, simplicity, sustainability and justice was not just an interim or a gap year but a training year for me on how to live the rest of my life as a Lutheran centered in social justice in the way of Jesus and our Lutheran ancestors. I participated in the Poor People’s Campaign because it was the right and just thing to do. Because the movement, now more than ever, is part of a national call for moral revival that goes beyond just this campaign and which demands of all people, from union members to faith leaders, to rise up and turn our nation to a way it has never known and finally realize justice for all people, to end poverty, racism, homelessness, hunger and war.”
To learn more about the Poor People’s Campaign, view their website here or watch below: