Clergy from across PA rallied, prayed, agitated and demonstrated to get out the vote, energize people of moral courage and hold bad actors to account
PHILADELPHIA, October 20, 2022]—POWER Interfaith’s Freedom Express, a statewide voting right bus tour, launched this week with an electrifying press conference, followed by rallies, “pray-ins,” and civil disobedience in and around Philadelphia. The actions spoke to the urgency of the current election season, especially the impact Black and Brown voters can bring to bear when their votes are not obstructed. A spotlight was also shone on corporate and individual bad actors attempting to exclude communities of color from crucial decision-making processes and threatening democracy, including a stop at the home of Jeffery Yass—the richest man in PA and single largest donor to PA’s rightwing dark money infrastructure.
Speaking at the press conference, Rev. Nicolas O’Rourke, Pastor of Living Water UCC an Organizing Director Working Families Party declared, “[the] extreme right wing out here in PA has toxified faith, hijacked Christianity, and tried to make you believe that God’s love is scarce — for the few, for the white, for the Right-wing. We know that’s just not true.” The actions that followed built off these principles of reclaiming faith, uplifting the voices of the marginalized and calling out injustice.
Following the launch, POWER Interfaith rallied at Maplewood Mall to sound the alarm on “Gun Violence and The Vote.” Uplifting the call to recognize “every vote as sacred,” the faith leaders brought focus to the national gun violence epidemic and the impact of voter suppression on Black and Brown voters across PA. POWER Interfaith then joined Philly Thrive in their “Pray In” Action, to hold the feet of corporate actors infringing on the “Right to Breathe” firmly to the fire.
The “Pray-In” with Philly Thrive included obstructing traffic at the front gate to the former PES oil refinery site, as well as disrupting traffic on the Passyunk Avenue bridge. The demonstration highlighted the disastrous consequences for residents and the environment when the impacted community is excluded from decision making, as happened with the refinery, and would continue with the site’s proposed redevelopment. Ms. Christal Heath, lifelong Philly resident and organizer with Philly Thrive, spoke to the need for meaningful changes based on the recognition of community stakeholder rights, “after being marginalized for over 150 years. Morally, we have an obligation to justice, future generations, and the planet to keep disrupting until residents are shaping land use plans.”
Faith leaders then prayed for the repentance of Jeffery Yass, one of the worst of the bad actors undermining democracy in Pennsylvania. He has funded and and is tied to extremist organizations, including some that are designated hate groups according to Southern Poverty Law Center. Through his network of PACs, Yass uses candidates, organizations, and lax laws to promote his billionaire agenda: avoiding paying $1 billion dollars in federal taxes, privatizing public schools, banning abortion, and funding hate and division. The Freedom Express riders shone the light of moral courage on his shadowy activities, with boisterous prayer and demonstration on his lawn.
Rev. Laura Colee, pastor of Beacon Church said, “As people of faith and believers in the God of justice, we are called to resist oppressive powers in all of their forms. Today, that looks like standing up against the actions of Jeff Yass… [who] willingly props up the evils of White Christian Nationalism. While Yass strives to fly under the radar of public accountability, we are here to let him know that we see his immoral dealings and we will not stand for them.”
Yass must be held to account by those who represent us and those not afraid to speak truth to power. To that end, POWER Interfaith demands that no one in elected office take money from Yass or the Commonwealth Foundation, and will not relent in calling out those on the Yass payroll.
The campaign will stretch until Election Day, with actions in over 16 towns and cities across the state, to rally people of moral courage, get out the vote, and exert pressure on those working to undermine our democracy. It will culminate at an action in Harrisburg outside of The Commonwealth Foundation building—a Koch Brothers-funded State Policy Network with longstanding ties to Yass.