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US clergy and lay leaders arrested in democracy demonstration

06 August 2021

Alamy

Clergy protest for the Poor People’s Campaign, in Washington, DC, on Monday. Hundreds were arrested during a non-violent act of civil disobedience outside the Hart Senate building

Clergy protest for the Poor People’s Campaign, in Washington, DC, on Monday. Hundreds were arrested during a non-violent act of civil disobedience out...

CLERGY and lay leaders in the United States, led by the Revd Jesse Jackson and the Revd William Barber, have been arrested during a protest in Washington, DC, over voting rights.

Members of the Episcopal Church’s clergy were among the 1000 demonstrators. Several were arrested and fined.

The event marked the end of a month-long campaign organised by the ecumenical Poor People’s Campaign, established by Mr Barber as a “season of non-violent moral action to save our democracy”.

It included a four-day march from Georgetown to Austin, Texas — chosen as the culmination of the march, as a Bill in the Texas legislature would clamp down on the state’s postal-voting rules, and include new ID requirements that, it is said, would affect the young and people of colour disproportionately.

Several other states, including Georgia and Arizona, have also passed laws this year that will make voting harder. Georgia’s Bill makes it a crime to pass out water and snacks to people queuing to vote.

Campaigners want two pieces of voting legislation, which have stalled in Congress, to be carried. They called on lawmakers to protect the Voting Rights Act; pass the For the People Act, which would include automatic voter registration; increase the federal minimum wage; eliminate the legislative filibuster (a delaying tactic particular to the US system); and provide “fair and respectful” treatment to the country’s immigrants.

The director of the Episcopal Church’s Office of Reconciliation, Justice and Creation, the Revd Melanie Mullen, was among those arrested in Washington. She told the Episcopal News Service (ENS) that the march “was just the latest in a long line of Episcopal advocacy to lift all in the face of economic vulnerability.”

Jennifer Page, a 64-year-old vestry member from St John’s, Georgetown, Washington, DC, said: “I feel like, as people of faith, we have to stand up and actually take some action.” She told the ENS that she hoped that her arrest and the direct action of the demonstrators would help to motivate others to support the platform of the Poor People’s Campaign.

Her Rector, the Revd Gini Garbasi, was also arrested. She posted on Twitter: “With hundreds of people from all over the country singing & chanting, it was Holy Ground. There are times in history when one must step off the sidelines & choose — when it becomes clear that the desire to stay safe & out of the fray is in effect a choice to continue the oppression & exploitation of other people. This is one of those times

“As for me, I am on the side of low wage workers & immigrants on the side of my siblings of colour, who are being disenfranchised by racist state laws & by the filibuster, that takes power from the voters & gives it to the powerful. Which side are you on?”

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