Resurrection of the Poor People’s Campaign

Rev. Barber told the activists gathered in the nation’s capital that by demonstrating in solidarity with poor people, they had become a link in the long history of people who fought for justice.

Following 40 days of protests around the nation, the Poor People’s Campaign converged on Washington, D.C., on June 23.

by David Hartsough

Tens of thousands of people from across the country have joined together in a nonviolent movement to resist what Martin Luther King called the “triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism,” and demand a radical restructuring of our society.

The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is one of the most important movements in U.S. history. It is led by Rev William Barber, a pastor at Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, who has carried on the legacy of Martin Luther King with great dedication, and Rev. Liz Theoharis, an ordained minister and anti-poverty campaigner from New York.

The Poor People’s Campaign was launched on Mother’s Day, May 13, 2018, and after 40 days of local nonviolent protests for economic justice at state capitals across America, the PPC culminated in a mass rally on the Mall in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, June 23.

At the rally on June 23, Liz Theoharis said, “It is unjust, immoral and unnecessary to have millions of poor people in this land. It is unjust, immoral and unnecessary that we have children warehoused across this country because of their immigration status, because of their homelessness, because their families had no access to water.”

Rev. William Barber told the activists gathered in the nation’s capital that by demonstrating in solidarity with poor and homeless people, they had become a living link in the long. inspiring history of people through the ages who fought for justice and spoke out for equal rights.

Barber told the massive rally that they were marching in the historic footprints of union organizers who fought for the rights of workers during the Depression, abolitionists who fought to end the cruel system of slavery, Biblical prophets who defended the poor against the rich, and the martyred James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who gave their lives in fighting for civil rights in Mississippi.

Rev. Barber said, “We gather here declaring it’s time for a moral uprising all across America. We are in the same moral tradition of the prophets of Israel, who challenged kings and rulers to stop legislating evil. We are in the same moral tradition of Jesus, whose evangelical work was not being against gay people, but being against poverty.

“We are in the same moral tradition of the Apache and other indigenous spiritual people, who taught us to care and not destroy and poison the air, water and the land. We are in the same moral tradition of the abolitionists, who knew, if slavery was legal, it was still immoral, and it had to be challenged. We are in the same moral tradition of the reconstructionists, who, after the Civil War, fought for equal protection under the law.

“We are in the same moral tradition as the social gospel movement, who looked at poverty and corporate greed and asked, “What would Jesus do?” We are in the same moral tradition of those who fought for labor unions and decent wages and 8-hour workdays, even when they were killed and hung in places like Chicago.

“We are in the same moral tradition as Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Heschel and Fannie Lou Hamer and Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman and Rosa Parks and Unitarians and Muslims like Malcolm and gay people and social justice activists like Bayard Rustin. We stand in the same moral traditions that have always fought to help this nation be a little more, a little more grounded in love, truth and peace, and to come a little closer to being a more perfect union. This is who we are.”

Fifty years ago, Dr. King started the first Poor People’s Campaign by organizing poor people from all over the country to travel to Washington, D.C., to demand an end to poverty and injustice in America. Unfortunately, King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, just as that campaign began. Today’s movement for economic justice carries on the campaign started by King 50 years ago.

Martin Luther King was an eloquent voice for economic justice. He urgently warned the nation to turn away from the path of war, and instead seek justice for the poor. He said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

King sounded like a Biblical prophet in compassionately defending the poorest of the poor. He said, “A structure which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

The Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) is building a movement calling for a moral revolution of values in which we put the well-being of all people higher than the importance of building planes, bombers, nuclear submarines and missiles, and creating more billionaires. We are gathering together to protest this inhumanity. We are saying, “Somebody is hurting my people and it has gone on far too long — and we won’t be silent any more.”

Today, more than 40 million people are living in poverty, while scholars estimate that another 100 million low-income Americans live in “near poverty.” This is a national crisis. In the richest country in the world, child poverty has reached record high levels, with a UNICEF report ranking the United States as having the second highest child poverty rates in the developed world.

Fifty-three cents of every tax dollar goes for wars and preparations for wars and only 15 cents for programs to fight poverty. We continue to spend about one trillion dollars a year on wars and the military while real security in the form of good jobs, health care, and quality education remains beyond the reach of millions. This is unconscionable and immoral.

The goal of the Poor People’s Campaign is to “consecrate a new movement to transform the political, economic and moral structures of society.”

On June 23, the Poor People’s Campaign held a large rally for economic justice for the poor at the Mall in Washington, D.C.

 

Over the past 40 days, in May and June, tens of thousands of people in 40 states have been organizing, holding rallies and doing nonviolent direct action each Monday in their state capitals (and in Washington, D.C.), bringing together the poor, the disenfranchised, the religious community, unions, the peace movement, veterans, the labor movement, women’s movement, students and teachers, the gay and lesbian community, and environmental activists to demand justice and an end to the scourge of poverty, racism, militarism, injustice and environmental destruction.

More than 2,500 people have been arrested over the past six weeks for calling on our state and national governments to listen to the people, instead of the corporations and the large contributors to the politicians’ campaigns. We want our government to really be of, by, and for the people — all the people. We are saying: “We will not be silent any more. This is just the beginning. We are going to educate and organize the 99% of the American people and together we are going to turn this country around.”

Each week of the Poor People’s Campaign brought forward a different theme in the struggle for justice. Week One focused on women, youth and people with disabilities living in poverty. Week Two connected systemic racism and economic justice, voting rights and immigration. Week Three concentrated on veterans, our war economy and militarism. Week Four emphasized the right to health for all people and the planet. Week Five’s theme, “Everybody’s got a right to live,” focused on living wages, guaranteed income, unions, housing and social services. Finally, Week Six brought it all back home, championing “a new and unsettling force, challenging our nation’s distorted moral narrative with a moral fusion movement.”

We have discovered that when each of our movements acts alone, we keep losing. When we all work together, we have a chance of winning. We are the large majority of our nation’s people.

In the first weeks of the PPC, I was arrested with 20 others from across California voicing our demands in the State Assembly from the gallery above the Assembly in Sacramento. In Washington, D.C., at the culmination of the campaign in June, I was arrested along with a hundred others who marched with thousands trying to take our demands to our representatives.

I believe our greatest enemy is our sense of powerlessness and hopelessness in this country. We need to recall Dr. King’s prophetic statement: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And we can help it bend!

In a church basement, King once said, “We have the power in this room, if we mobilize it, to completely change the future course of America.” King believed that and he helped others believe that. Together, we did help create major changes with the power of nonviolent resistance. But our work is not yet complete.

The Poor People’s Campaign is asking all who join to make a commitment to nonviolence in spirit and in our actions. With Gandhi and King, we believe that to build a powerful movement that can attract millions of people, we must maintain a clear and strong commitment to active nonviolence.

When Dr. King came back from receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965, he stopped by Washington to talk with President Lyndon Johnson about the need for a voting rights bill. President Johnson told King he agreed with him, but Congress would never pass a voting rights bill, since they had just passed the civil rights bill. Wait a few years, Johnson advised.

King wasted no more time in Washington, but went south and began a voting rights effort with the Southern Christian Leadership Council and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. They began organizing black people in Alabama to go to their local courthouses to register to vote. Instead of allowing black people to vote, the police beat them with billy clubs, and attacked them with fire hoses and police dogs.

People across the United States saw this on the evening news every night. The contrast between the quiet, peaceful determination of the people demanding the right to vote, and the violence of the powers that be, touched the hearts and consciences of a nation. Within a few months, Congress passed the voting rights bill.

The Poor People’s Campaign plans to continue nonviolently challenging the injustice and inhumanity of our country’s addiction to racism, militarism, economic injustice and environmental destruction. Working together, we can waken the American people to speak out, act and vote for a just and decent future for all people.

Our work has just begun. We hope you will join us. TOGETHER WE SHALL OVERCOME!!!

Ways to Be Involved

* Visit www.Poorpeoplescampaign.org to get more information and to get involved.

* Text ACTION to 90975.

* Be trained to organize with the Poor People’s Campaign.

* Engage in power building and voter mobilization in poor communities around the PPC Moral Agenda.

* Promote the Moral Agenda on social media.

* Deliver the demands of the Moral Agenda to your state legislators, U.S. House Representatives and U.S. Senators.

David Hartsough is a lifelong nonviolent activist and author of Waging Peace: Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist. Hartsough was arrested in the first Poor People’s Campaign 50 years ago and in this year’s new Poor People’s Campaign.

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