Founder and co-chair, The Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty
Good afternoon everyone. Thank you all for coming to our RI Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty ‘s 6th annual vigil . We extend a special welcome to Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed and Speaker of The House, Gordon Fox. They will bring us greetings later in this program. As always we have just been called to gather together as a community by the sounds of the Shofars, echoing through this beautiful capital building.
50 years ago today, the 1964 Congress gathered together in our nation’s beautiful capital building, when our then, President, Lyndon Johnson declared War on Poverty. He said: “Unfortunately, many Americans live on the outskirts of hope--some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity. This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.”1
2 months later in a special message to Congress proposing a nationwide war on the sources of poverty, President Johnson said “What does this poverty mean to those who endure it?
It means a daily struggle to secure the necessities for even a meager existence. It means that the abundance, the comforts, the opportunities they see all around them are beyond their grasp.
Worst of all, it means hopelessness for the young.” 2
The Food stamp Act, Head Start, Medicare, Medicaid, Community Action programs, VISTA and The Job Corps were some of the historic legislation created as a response to the War on Poverty.
With these important programs still in place today, our interfaith coalition asks:
How can it be that 50 years later, here in RI, 13.7% of our residents, 19.5% of our children and 9.2% of our seniors live in poverty?
How can it be that nearly 180,00 Rhode Islanders depend upon SNAP or food stamps to supplement their nourishment and that the General Assembly ‘s community grant to The RI Food bank has been reduced by half since 2008?
How can it be that 6000 people waited in line, some all through the night, to put their names on a waiting list for affordable housing in East Providence. and that it could take years before they would be called for an apartment?
How can it be that 370 Head Start slots in RI for low income preschoolers were cut due to the sequester, when early childhood education is imperative to help lift these children out of poverty?
Since 2009, our interfaith coalition, representing leaders of multi faiths and advocacy groups on the full range of poverty issues, have assembled here at the beginning of your legislative session to wish you a productive session. We offer our support to all of you, our elected officials, with the expectation that working together, the alleviation of poverty must be a top public policy priority.
Rooted in moral values of all our religious traditions, our interfaith coalition, in one strong voice, is committed to assuring that all Rhode Islanders have:
Joining our anti-poverty coalition partners, our interfaith coalition will be dedicating our time during this Legislative session to advocating for 9 policy initiatives that are detailed in your program.
With continued record unemployment, we know our state faces hard economic times...so we ask that:
As you are faced with many difficult decisions during this legislative session, you makes these decisions with wisdom and compassion and create a budget and programs that assure that all Rhode Islanders are afforded pathways out of poverty and a road to economic security. Hope is the motto of our state. Let us together bring hope to our struggling Rhode Islanders.
1.LBJ Presidential Library .org
2. Special message to congress proposing a nationwide war on the sources of poverty March 1964
American Presidency Project UC Santa Barbara
The Very Reverend Doctor Jeffrey A. Williams
The King's Cathedral
"In view of these challenging opportunities, we should be conscious of the fact that only a few months ago the world recognized the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and the prophet Civil Rights, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the 100 Birthday of the late heroine, Rosa Parks and the passing of the President Nelson Mandela. These legendary figures are still teaching us; they are yet speaking to us. What did these individuals have in common? Consecrated Ambition. What I mean by Consecrated Ambition is that inner conviction that serves as the driving force for honorable, noble, may I dare say, Holy purposes."
"In the day and time in which we live, there is a moral imperative for our elected leaders to govern with Compassion, Conviction Courage and Competence. We need Political Martyrs, those who will sacrifice their career to do what’s right, not just what is politically expedient."
"Where are the women and men who would rather lose an election than employ unethical tactics to win or retain a seat."
"Where are those legislators, would-be-governors and leaders, that upon waking each morning feel the crushing weight of the responsibility to which they have been elected."
"What happened to the servant-leaders who, after the financial statements are processed and the political gurus have spoken, still sense another direction is in order because of the negative impact certain cuts will have on the poor, the disenfranchised and marginalized."
"We long for the day that the men and women who are now our representatives, would not fear political retribution for being vocal about their faith, pausing to pray to God about their decisions and doing so in their offices."
"Where are those who see the hurting as people, and not political talking points to garner the vote. Where are those that are willing to forego re-election rather than pander to the political machines the claim ownership of their careers."
" Whatever happened to the servant of the people, the person that saw governing as a humbling responsibility, rather than a career to which to aspire for self-aggrandizement or worse an office that could be bought by simply out-spending the opposition. As one former President said, "The purpose of government is to enable the people of a nation to live in safety and happiness. Government exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors."
"Where are those who realize a state is comprised of many different people groups with various needs - few more important than education, housing and employment - and are willing to fight until all have the education, adequate housing and employment that pays a living wage."
"Where are those persons who see Justice as a moral right, rather than an ideal for a select few. Shouldn’t there be justice for all and not just a few? The Late President Nelson Mandela once said, “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
"We are living in rather peculiar and complex period of our State and Nation. Truly, if you are not troubled by what you see, read and hear, then you are simply are not paying attention. Between the thousands of men, women, children, families who are homeless, and seeking shelter on this very deadly frigid day, to a slumping economy that has disproportionately impacted the poor, the shamefully low unemployment and under-employment rate of many our citizens, and to the embarrassing political drama being acted out on Capital Hill, we have much to be concerned about."
Reverend Betsy Aldrich Garland
Founder and co-chair, The Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty
On behalf of the Rhode Island Interfaith
Coalition to Reduce Poverty,
We thank you, faith leaders, for
reminding us that
all of our traditions admonish us to care for
We come from many communities of faith,
but we are united in our commitment to
those who struggle
for shelter and food, for health care and
for decent work and adequate income.
We thank you, elected leaders – to
whose names we have given voice –
for your willingness to work for sound
legislation and public policies that
promote economic well-being for all
You come from all corners of this State and
from all socio-economic groups,
but we trust that you will keep in your
a love for the cause of human welfare
and a dedication to the common
We thank you, everyone gathered here at
this 6th Annual State House Vigil,
to speak with One Voice to Reduce
May we, this day, be inspired, be filled
with new enthusiasm,
be ready to see fresh opportunity, new
perspectives, and unnoticed avenues
for action and resolution.
In the name of all that we call Holy,
may we be Keepers of the Dream in
2014 and in all the years to come.
And may we have a healthy, productive,
wise, and compassionate New Year.
May it be so.