Hundreds of people gathered in Portland’s Lincoln Park Thursday evening and marched down Congress Street in an effort to raise awareness about the income gaps and racial inequality that exist in America.

The Poor People’s Campaign march ended with a meeting at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church that featured Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, national co-chairs of the campaign, as guest speakers.

“When we lift from the bottom, everybody rises,” Theoharis told the audience gathered inside the church.

Theoharis, the director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, called on the crowd to fight systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation, the war-driven economy and the “distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.”

Organizers of the National Call for Moral Revival said the large turnout, estimated at more than 300 people, caught them by surprise. The event, which was promoted on social media, was a warmup for a planned national assembly and march on Washington, D.C. The rally will take place on the National Mall on June 20, 2020.

Rev. Jodi Hayashida, of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Auburn, said the passion displayed by the crowd shows the level of concern in Maine about poverty.

“Portland, like so many places in Maine, has so many people suffering because of the broken-ness of our society,” Hayashida said.

Poor Peoples Campaign supporters believe it is time for Americans, regardless of political affiliation, to correct an economy that isn’t working for the majority of Americans. They say the gap between rich and poor has grown to match levels of inequality not seen since the Great Depression.

The crowd of several hundred people at Thursday’s rally marches down Congress Street. The Poor People’s Campaign march ended with a meeting at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church.  Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

According to the Poor People’s Campaign, 41 percent of people in Maine – about 545,000 adults and 129,000 children – are poor or low income.

Around 6:20 p.m. the crowd that had gathered in Lincoln Park started marching up Congress Street, taking over the street and disrupting commuter traffic as it filed past the Press Hotel and Portland City Hall.

Barber, the president of the North Carolina NAACP and pastor of the Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, addressed the crowd briefly before the march started.

“Forward together, not one step back,” Barber’s deep voice boomed as he spoke into a microphone. “All roads lead to D.C. Will you be there? We must do more.”

Bob Klotz of South Portland rode to the march on his bicycle. A physician’s assistant who works in the trauma and addiction field, Klotz said the disparity in wages and income in America is disturbing.

“I think this march is tremendous. It’s so overdue,” he said, adding that although Thursday’s march and large turnout in Portland were satisfying, important and powerful, more people need to step up and fight for the nation’s moral revival.

Theoharis led the walkers into the street. Using a microphone, she led the participants in chants about fighting for health care, living wages, an end to racism and protection of immigrant rights.

“There are 140 million poor and low-wealth people in this country. That is power if it is mobilized, organized, registered and educated,” Barber said. “Not just registered to vote, but registered for a long-term movement that votes and is committed to systemic change.”

Portland was the third stop on Barber and Theoharis’ national tour. The “We Must Do More” national tour will shine a light on the conditions of those individuals impacted by racism, poverty and ecological damage.

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