Washington D.C. - Thousands of people gathered in the US capital of Washington DC on June 18 to participate in the ‘Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls’. The action was organized by the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) to address a broad range of interconnected issues affecting the country’s 140 million poor and low wealth people– including access to health care and housing, systemic racism, the climate crisis, and rising militarism. The PPC was joined by labor unions, religious organizations, and several climate action, human rights, and civil society groups. The rally took place over 50 years since the PPC was first founded and organized by civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, shortly before his assassination.
Poor People’s Campaign
While Democrats march around in Washington DC pretending they care about quality of life for poor people, it’s important to remember who actually walks the walk as opposed to just talking the talk. A joint press conference held by the Philadelphia-based Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign with the Black Alliance for Peace, shared these words of wisdom via zoom on June 16, 2022. Note that the PPEHRC operates as the Poor People’s Army, a well-established organization that has struggled and won housing for single mothers and their children. Details about attending their August boot camp to learn how it’s done are at the end of this post.
Rev. William Barber, an indisputable champion of the poor and a consistent voice demanding an end to poverty, may have made a serious moral and ethical error that effectively placed him outside of the “Kingian” framework that informed Dr. King’s work especially during the last year of his life. In an attempt to make a point about the flawed priorities of the duopoly, Dr. Barber wrote in an email to the “movement family” on Saturday, April 30, 2022 that, “despite the political gridlock on Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats have acted swiftly to approve historic military aid to Ukraine. In the face of such a moral imperative, it would be anathema for either party to ask, “How are we going to pay for it?”
On April 4, 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave one of the most significant speeches of his career. In “Beyond Vietnam - Time to Break Silence ” King declared his unequivocal opposition to the war in Vietnam. His very public break with Lyndon Johnson was greeted with derision, including from his own allies, who believed that the president was an ally who should not be attacked. The NAACP board passed a resolution calling King’s statement a “serious tactical mistake” that would neither “serve the cause of civil rights nor of peace.” The media joined in the condemnation, with the New York Times characterizing his comments as “facile” and “slander.” Even Black newspapers such as The Pittsburgh Courier judged his remarks to be “tragically misleading.”
Washington DC — Community organizers and faith leaders from 33 States converged on the U.S. Capitol to demand passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4) and the Build Back Better Bill (H.R. 5376), now pending Senate approval. They chastised West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin for his role in delaying passage of the legislation which would provide protection for voting rights and financial relief for millions of impoverished Americans. Reverend William Barber called out Senator Joe Manchin by name for playing a “trick” on his constituents by delaying a vote in the Senate on the voting rights bill. Barber said that by delaying the vote until March it would give State legislatures time to gerrymander districts and allow passage of more restrictive voting laws.
On Monday August 2, 2021, Reverend William Barber II walked alongside Jesse Jackson leading several thousand on a revival of that same moral imperative. Their Moral Monday March was to demand that Congress restore the Voting Rights Act, signed by President Johnson on August 8, 1965, by passing the For The People Act, legislation which will strike down at the Federal level, all new voting restrictions passed in States like Georgia, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Arizona.
Activists with the national Poor People's Campaign were arrested Wednesday after blocking a street in front of the Hart Senate building in Washington, D.C. to demand passage of the For the People Act, a popular voting rights expansion bill that Republicans successfully filibustered just 24 hours earlier. After rallying in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, hundreds of low-wage workers, faith leaders, and advocates—including residents of West Virginia, Kentucky, and several other states—marched to the nearby Senate building to demand meetings with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), two key opponents of the For the People Act.
Suppose the total annual income of a family composed of a mother, father, great-aunt, and two children living outside of a major metropolitan area came to $32,000 in 2019. Although their income might be significantly lower than the average among similarly-sized households in the region, the U.S. wouldn’t have included them in the official count of American families living in poverty. Families of their size and composition only would have been considered impoverished in 2019 if their earnings fell below $31,275. Since this hypothetical family earned $725 more, they wouldn’t have been considered poor. Scenarios like this one found among real American families are behind new advocacy to change how the U.S. government defines poverty.
Across the United States, poor and dispossessed people cannot wait for our politicians to act. This week, in states including Kansas, Maine, Alabama, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Vermont, and Pennsylvania, people are coming together in “Medicaid Marches” to demand their right to health and healthcare. They know that Black people are dying at twice the rate of white people and that poverty is the highest risk factor for people of all races. They know that the United States now accounts for over 20 percent of worldwide deaths, despite having only 5 percent of the world’s population and that this was entirely preventable.
President Trump drew a smaller crowd than he expected for his rally this past Saturday, but that wasn’t the case for the Poor People’s Campaign. Well more than a million people viewed the campaign’s Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington via Facebook that same day. Many more viewed MSNBC and C-SPAN simulcasts and two repeat broadcasts over the weekend. According to organizers, the three and a half hour event was “the largest digital and social media gathering of poor and low-wealth people, moral and religious leaders, advocates, and people of conscience in this nation’s history.” The virtual rally lifted up people who are living the interconnected injustices that have been the campaign’s focus for the past two years: systemic racism, poverty and inequality, ecological devastation, and militarism and the war economy. Many spoke of how the Covid-19 pandemic has only deepened existing inequalities.
In April 2018, the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival released a Moral Agenda and Declaration of Fundamental Rights. The demands contained within that document present a comprehensive response to the systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism, and war economy plaguing our country today. For the 140 million people who are poor, or one emergency away from being poor, we know these demands are necessary. This Poor People’s Moral Budget asks, given the resources of our society, whether these demands are also possible.
The Kentucky Poor People’s Campaign is returning to the state capitol Tuesday to protest a new emergency regulation enacted by Governor Matt Bevin. The new rules require those wanting to assemble at a state building to submit an application ten days in advance of the event. Last summer the group held a series of statehouse protests in Frankfort and 40 other state capitals. Reverend Megan Huston, a pastor of First Christian Church in Bowling Green, participated in those protests last year and will be in Frankfort for the event Tuesday. “Lobbyists have no trouble getting into the capitol building but then you gather clergy and people living in poverty...
Fifty years have passed since I was a volunteer physician taking care of the PPC marchers who came across the country and the bridges into the District. They camped in the rain and mud to demonstrate the poverty deep in our “great” nation. But, today while the PPC has had the same soaking rains, there was no mud. The thousands who came were met with a huge interlocking mat of white plastic. It was a thick, flexible barrier between us and the grassroots. The Park Service could take it up after the rally and march and there would be no mud and tracks of the PPC.