You Cannot Wash Your Hands of the Poor

Posted on May 15, 2017
You Cannot Wash Your Hands of the Poor

Rev. Shawna Foster, Board Chair of Iraq Veterans Against the War, reports on “The People’s Trial and Revival” in Aberdeen, WA, hosted by Chaplains on the Harbor as part of our National Truth Commission on the Right to Not Be Poor.


One of the tools of empire is to blame the people who have the least amount of power in the system for its failures. This was true when Pontius Pilate, the avatar of the Roman Empire over Jerusalem, washed his hands of Jesus’ crucifixion. As the one in power – rather than do justice – he chose to blame the victims of his corrupt regime.

This dynamic remains unchanged over two thousand years later. I know this as someone who joined the armed forces of this country immediately before the Iraq War. When I learned that the Bush administration intentionally lied about weapons of mass destruction to justify war, I left the military and joined Iraq Veterans Against the War. Society says I should blame myself for getting caught up in a system that would kill me to protect profit. I am at fault, and all the people with meager resources lured into military, for a war machine worth trillions of dollars. They want to blame those who died fighting in war rather than the people in power who create these wars. The fear to face power is all too present in our society.

In Westport and Aberdeen Washington, I held people’s hands as they told me of the abuses of power justified by victim-blaming. Youth literally tortured in prison. People chased by the police into rivers to drown. Mothers who got clean and lost their babies to the system anyway. Disabled people, who were no threat, tased to death. Slumlords who aren’t held accountable to the suffering of the people they house. Hospitals that pick through people based on their ability to pay instead of healing the patients presented to them. As the empire of timber left the area, the system is cannibalizing itself by pushing people into deep poverty and eating them alive.

We held a people’s court hearing. We brought evidence of the systemic failure of those in power. The plaintiffs shared story after story after story of the destruction of their lives and community at the hands of those who are charged to serve the very people they oppress. I acted as judge, along with other faith and moral leaders. We found the evidence sufficient to say that the system must go on trial. The people of Aberdeen and Westport must tell the truth so powerfully that these institutions will be totally revolutionized.

The biggest barrier the poor face is the lie that they have no power. Jesus knew this, which is why he always spoke for the poor as one of the poor. He knew that the poor rising up threatens empire. Those who would wash their hands of us are always the ones in need of redemption from the poor. The people of Chaplains on the Harbor are ready to offer this redemption. They will heroically move forward, not as victims blamed for their circumstances, but as a people who know their circumstances are no accident. They will tell truth to power, and redeem their entire community.

May our entire nation look to them and witness how the poor will turn the system upside down, how we, as the rejected stone, become the chief cornerstone. The time of reckoning is at hand; woe to those who would stop the justice of the poor.