WASHINGTON – Tucson native Daniel Viehland felt it was his duty as a Christian and a white person to march in Washington on Monday – 54 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and two weeks after white supremacists rallied just two hours away.
The seminary student was part of the Ministers March for Justice. While it was timed for the anniversary of King’s speech, but touched on current events including the Charlottesville rallies and President Donald Trump’s pardoning Friday of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
“I came out today because I think it is important that we get out there and support our friends and neighbors who are people of color,” Viehland said as the march began at the Martin Luther King Memorial. “I think it is important that, particularly for me as a white person, stand up and stand for those who face racial injustice.”
The rally began at the memorial with dozens of speakers before the crowd, which organizers estimated at 3,000, marched to the Justice Department to continue their denunciations of the Trump administration. That included Trump’s decision to pardon Arpaio, who could have faced up to six months in prison.
The former sheriff was convicted this summer of criminal contempt of court for not ordering his deputies to stop targeting Latinos in traffic stops. In announcing the pardon, Trump said Arpaio’s career exemplified “selfless public service” and he cited the former sheriff’s age – Arpaio is 85.
But those at the rally said they could not stand by at the pardon, the first of Trump’s presidency.
“We will not be indifferent when a sheriff is pardoned,” said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. That was echoed by the Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson of Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, New York, who said the pardon was “not normal.”
The crowd included a wide range of races, ages and religions, evidenced by array of religious garments on display. Chants of “black lives matter” and anti-trump protests rang out as the crowd marched down Constitution Avenue.
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“No justice, no peace,” they chanted, and “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now.”
The chants were punctuated by clapping and scattered singing of hymns. Some people winced at the occasional “Hell no,” from some of the more riled-up speakers, while others cheered them on. There were no counter-protesters present.
Despite the setting, the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Sojourners Magazine, said the event was not political and that “the media makes a mistake if they think today is political … this day is theological.”
But Maryvale native Brad Kenn said people of faith should not be shy about expressing their opinions – the separation of church and state should not completely stop religion from playing a role in politics, he said.
“We are separated physically by church and state and laws, but that doesn’t mean your faith shouldn’t affect the way you do things in politics,” he said.
Kenn, who now works as a youth minister in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, said he came to the rally to show young people the power of their voice.
“I work as a youth director at Chevy Chase United Methodist Church and I wanted to show the youth that their faith has action, it has precedence and it is calling us to do justice,” Kenn said. “Coming out here today gives people the ability to have a voice, and I think that’s the main problem is that people feel like they don’t have a voice.”
He said the march had another purpose, to bring people together under one God regardless of religion.
“I think this helps us realize that we aren’t alone,” he said. “As a Protestant, as a Hermetic Jew, as anyone, we can do this together.”
For Viehland, it was important to be there to deliver the message that racism is “not of the God in Christianity, not of the God in Judaism, not of the God in Islam” but is “morally wrong no matter what religion you are part of.”