WASHINGTON – April 23, 2015 – Over 1,000 Christian advocates were fired up for justice in the light of the difficult issues and injustices in domestic U.S. and international criminal and immigrant detention systems at the 13th Annual National Gathering of Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) for Global Peace with Justice. The annual event and Congressional advocacy day, held in Washington, D.C. from April 17-20, 2015, was entitled, “Breaking the Chains: Mass Incarceration and Systems of Exploitation.”
“Together we have joined in a movement to shake the foundations of systems of human exploitation, including a prison-industrial system that incarcerates millions of people in the U.S. and abroad,” said Douglas Grace, Executive Director of EAD. “A world that incarcerates so many and allows some to profit from the exploitation of slave, trafficked and forced labor remains far from the ‘beloved community’ which we are all called to seek.”
Together, advocates were inspired by dynamic preachers of the liberating Gospel, including Rev. Traci deVon Blackmon pastor from Florissant and Ferguson, Mo., and Bishop José García of Bread for the World. Participants learned about the historical and theological foundations of problems in contemporary criminal justice systems as well as racial and economic exploitation systems around the world from witnesses such as Dr. Iva Carruthers, General Secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, and Rev. Dr. Bill Mefford, of The United Methodist Church General Board of Church & Society.
They also were challenged to action by panel discussions on the role of the church in the “War on Drugs” and deeply moved to tears and action in light of the deplorable incarceration and abuse of children, women and men in prisons around the world. EAD activists were educated about the many related issues of global exploitation, torture, and incarceration through issues workshops and a moving and disturbing meditation from within a replica of a solitary confinement cell. (More information about EAD’s 2015 plenary speakers and preachers can be found here.)
Opportunities for networking by denomination and by state and local regions briefed advocates on the EAD’s 2015 Congressional advocacy Ask, which focused on efforts to end mandatory minimum sentences for low-level and nonviolent offenders and to end the immoral and unjust immigration bed quota, which often encourages, rather than discourages, mass immigrant detention on the U.S. border and elsewhere. Advocates were also given the opportunity to hone their organizing skills through training workshops.
Grace provided a theological context for the National Gathering and the legislative activity: “As people of faith, we denounce the elements in our world that justify such systems of exploitation and mass incarceration. At EAD, we confessed our personal and corporate failure to break the chains of poverty, racism, and greed institutionalized in our laws, economy, and social behaviors that have colluded to perpetuate such human exploitation and strip civil and human rights from so many.
“As people of Hope,” Grace continued, “we are reminded that Jesus’ radical message was one of liberation for all and restoration of right relationships. Through prayer, worship, advocacy training, networking and mobilization with other Christians, we have faced the reality of mass incarceration and corporate exploitation, and now call for national policies that bring liberation both to the prisoner and to a world in need of restoration.”
Photos from Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the National Gathering are now available, along with additional photos of EAD’s Monday Lobby Day. Videos of the plenary speakers and panels, as well as the celebration and worship services will be added in the coming days and weeks, along with other written resources from the event.