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Thousands Flood D.C. For 'Take Back The Capitol'


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, we are going to continue our weeklong series on people in that middle space between legal and illegal immigration. We'll hear from a young Nigerian woman who must choose between life saving medical care here in the U.S. and seeing her family back in her home country. That's our In Limbo series and we'll continue with that in just a few minutes. But first, we want to talk more about the protest movement that has intrigued and repulsed so many in this country, the so called Occupy movement.

You might be familiar with the ad hoc groups that have gathered in some public spaces in various cities around the country. Now, a new group is converging on the National Mall. Organizers are calling it Take Back the Capitol and are hoping to draw thousands of demonstrators from across the country to Capitol Hill. Protesters hope to lobby Congress to extend federal unemployment benefits.

They also have plans to demonstrate in the cities lobbying corridor, K Street. While there's no direct connection with the Occupy Wall Street protests, they are similar in spirit. The Take Back demonstrators are protesting what they feel is the influence of corporate money on government. One of those demonstrators is the Reverend C.J. Hawking. She's a minister ordained in the United Methodist Church and executive director of Arise Chicago, a faith-based workers rights organization. And we happened to catch up with her in our Washington, D.C. studios. Reverend Hawking, thank you so much for joining us.

REVEREND C.J. HAWKING: Good to be here.

MARTIN: How did you come to the belief that you had to participate in these particular protests right now?

HAWKING: Well, for me personally I go back to scripture and there was a moment where God was in the burning bush speaking to Moses, who was at work by the way tending the sheep, and God said to Moses: I want you to lead my people out of those oppressive working conditions and into the land of liberation flowing with milk and honey. And I would say that at that exact moment God forever linked economic justice issues with our faith, and so I see myself and all of the faith movement right now as the trajectory from that moment.

MARTIN: As you know, you probably know, you know, many people are intrigued by and sympathetic with the Occupy protests but there are other people - I'm just judging from the mail that we get - who are disturbed and annoyed by them. And so I'm just curious to know whether you're at all worried about being associated with something that has as many detractors as it seems to have supporters?

HAWKING: Oh gosh, not at all. Take Back Chicago and Take Back the Capitol are enthusiastic partners with Occupy Chicago. We see a great synergy between the two groups. Take Back Chicago got started in June of this year as we gathered a group of about 15 social and economic justice non-profits to fight for a fair economy and we started making plans for a week of action in October. So, we're in the process of getting that all together and then suddenly in September Occupy Chicago pops up and we find this to be a great convergence.

We're excited that people are talking about being the 99 percent and that they're tired of having corporations control their lives.

MARTIN: Well, so, tell me this is the ongoing question that both sort of bedevils people who are trying to kind of wrap their hands around this movement. What exactly do you want?

HAWKING: Well again, I'm a part of Take Back Chicago, not Occupy Chicago. But it does seem to be a seamless garment. I would say we are here in the capital for three reasons: jobs, jobs, jobs. One in five Americans are unable to find full time work according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and we're tired of business as usual and find that we must disrupt the flow of corporations and Wall Street controlling our lives. We didn't build this country to take necessities away from the many to give luxuries to the few.

MARTIN: OK, I understand but I think that the critics of - well, let's just say others might say corporations on Wall Street other people who create jobs, that the capital doesn't create jobs. Washington doesn't create jobs. The corporations and Wall Street, whether we like it or not, are the people who do. And what would you say to that? Sorry, again, it goes back to the question of what exactly you want those lawmakers to do specifically?

HAWKING: Well, we're here to call attention to the fact that the income inequality has not been greater since the 1930s in this country and the 99 percent quite honestly are fed up, they're suffering and they need change. I think in terms of a jobs bill, we could do something as righteous and radical as the New Deal and put Americans back to work.

MARTIN: And you know, finally in addition to your work with Arise Chicago you are also pastoring a church. What do your parishioners think about your participation in this, and what are your folks saying to you?

HAWKING: Well, as we say at Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church in Oak Park, fighting for economic and social justice is in our DNA. As the Occupy movement was emerging we had two women from our church put on choir robes - and they're in their 50s and 60s - and go down to Occupy Chicago and say we're here as the church ladies. Well, they were quickly befriended and have returned ever since. There's also a spiritual affairs committee at most Occupy movements.

We have Shabbat on Fridays, we have Eucharist on Sundays. The religious community is very well integrated into this movement.

MARTIN: The Reverend C.J. Hawking is the United Methodist minister. She's executive director of Arise Chicago. That's a faith-based workers rights organization. We happened to catch up with her in Washington, D.C., where she's preparing to join other demonstrators who are gathering at the National Mall. Reverend Hawking, thanks so much for joining us.

HAWKING: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.