The Rev. Al Sharpton organized more than 1,000 religious leaders from multiple faiths to rally Monday in Washington, saying he hopes to show that opposition to President Trump is not merely a political reproach, but also a moral one.
The “One Thousand Ministers March for Justice” in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial will come on the 54th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where King delivered his famed “I Have a Dream” speech.
The rally was planned long before a deadly white supremacist protest earlier this month in Charlottesville, although Sharpton said the events in Virginia only intensified the mission of Monday’s march.
“Charlottesville gave it a new energy, and a lot of ministers called in saying that this is the time to make a moral statement,” Sharpton said. “The president called for unity, and we are going to show unity. The question is, which side is the president on?”
According to National Park Service permits, the rally will start at 10 a.m. near the MLK Memorial at West Potomac Park-Polo Field on the Mall.
The rally will include a prayer vigil and ceremony in which leaders will “recommit to being at the forefront of social justice and civil rights,” the permit states. Participants then will march to the Department of Justice.
Sharpton’s National Action Network organization is planning the rally, which will be attended by Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith leaders. King’s older son, Martin Luther King III, is expected to attend.
“We want to convene ministers from all faiths to make a moral statement that no matter what party is in office, there are certain moral things that should be nonnegotiable,” Sharpton said. “That is voting rights, health care, criminal justice reform and economic justice.”
In the wake of the Charlottesville protest — in which a white supremacist rallygoer allegedly drove his car through a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman — Trump received condemnation from both parties after he said there was blame on “many sides” for the deadly violence. (Under pressure the next day, he condemned neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan by name, but later seemed to defend his original remarks.)
Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said it’s critical for Jewish leaders to have a presence at Monday’s rally. Pesner was one of many rabbis who said he would not participate in an annual conference call with the president ahead of the Jewish High Holidays because of Trump’s Charlottesville remarks.
He said Jews marched 5,000 years ago out of Egypt, they marched with Martin Luther King Jr. 54 years ago and would be marching Monday against the Trump administration’s policies. More than 200 Jewish leaders are expected to march Monday, Pesner said.
“We Jews will march for 5,000 more years if that’s what it takes to make sure that all people experience compassion and justice and equality,” Pesner said. “We know that it’s our jobs as Jews to always show up and beat back the forces of white supremacy, racism and hate of all forms.”
Trump and Sharpton, two prominent New Yorkers, have a long and public history. During the 1989 Central Park jogger case, Sharpton stood by five black teens who were accused of attacking a white female jogger in Central Park. Trump, in an open letter published as an ad in the New York Times and other newspapers, called for the teens to be sentenced to death.
The teens were exonerated in 2002 after another man confessed to the crime.
Trump and Sharpton, according to Sharpton, have “always had an adversarial political relationship.”
“It’s fair to say that we are doing this march because the basic tenets of Dr. King’s dream are at risk now by the policies being promoted by this administration,” Sharpton said. “Trump has kept the bust of Dr. King in his office, but what about the dream of Dr. King?”
Update, 2:34 p.m. Aug. 26: An earlier version of this story said Valerie Jarrett would attend Monday’s event. A spokeswoman for the former presidential adviser said she will not be there, and her name has been removed.