The Poor Peoples Campaign, a young movement, has already gotten an audience in Congress and has been holding protests around the US. The anti-poverty, anti-racism effort takes its name from the initiative launched 50 years ago by Martin Luther King and cut short by his assassination, and is now led by Reverends William Barber and Liz Theoharis> However, it is currently in the “first they ignore you” phase of protest as far as major press outlets concerned.
We’ll do what we can to remedy that.
The Poor Peoples Campaign website describes how it has enlisted tens of thousands in over 30 states, documenting their suffering and using that information to develop a broad-based critique and a program, which they call a “Declaration of Fundamental Rights and Poor People’s Moral Agenda.” Their issues include racism, such as the erosion of voting rights, poverty and inequality, and ecological devastation, such as lack of access to affordable water. For instance, in Jefferson County, where sewer charges for a family easily run to a few hundred dollars a month, low income families often have to choose between having water or electricity.
The last issue is “National Morality,” where they take on fundamentalists and libertarians. For instance:
In the history of this country, moral justifications have been offered for the genocide and forced removal of indigenous people from their lands, slavery, resisting the Brown v. Board of Education school segregation case and opposing the Roe v. Wade abortion case. Today, religious extremists focus on issues like prayer in school, abortion, and gun rights that distort the national moral narrative.
This distorted narrative became integral to the well-funded libertarian movement to redefine “liberty” as freedom from government. In 2016, Franklin Graham invested $10 million of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s money in his 2016 Decision America Tour to each state house in the country. Billed as “nonpartisan” prayer rallies, these gatherings framed the “moral crisis” as a decision between progressive atheist values and God. After the election, Graham called Trump’s victory an answer to prayer.
Huffington Post did cover the Congressional hearing earlier this week:
At the congressional hearing, convened by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), members of the House and Senate listened to leaders of and participants in the Poor People’s Campaign, a new movement co-led by the Rev. William Barber against poverty and racism in America. About half a dozen lawmakers attended, including Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Among those who testified were Pamela Rush from Alabama, who spoke in tears of her struggles living in a mobile home with two kids and open sewage in their yard, and Christopher Olive, a 27-year-old veteran from Washington state, who said he started taking opiates for pain relief for pancreatitis — which led to homelessness and a 10-year bout with opioid addiction….
Sanders responded after people’s testimonies, saying, “How did this happen?”
“I’ll tell you exactly,” he continued. “Because most of the members here in Congress are not here to represent you all but to represent billionaires who fund their campaigns. That’s how.” …
Warren kicked off the hearing Tuesday afternoon by reading statistics on the state of poverty in America, including that more than 40 percent of U.S. adults don’t have $400 in savings to cover an unexpected emergency. Cummings pointed out that 40 million Americans are living in poverty.
“All the while, corporate profits in America are skyrocketing,” Warren said. “It is a moral crisis.”
Lee Camp also featured some of the protests in a segment on Wednesday:
The Topeka campaign that Camp mentioned has been underway for five weeks. From the Topeka Capitol-Journal:
Monday’s rally centered on wages, income inequality, education and child welfare. The burden of low wages coupled with cuts to social services hurts working families who struggle to support children, said Topeka Unitarian-Universalist pastor Sarah Oglesby-Dunegan, who led the rally and was later arrested. She was critical of the growing number of children in foster care. Neglect, either physical or lack of supervision, was the dominant reason children were placed in foster care, she said.
“And we know why that is, right? Because we’re not getting paid enough,” she said relating the child welfare to the rally’s larger theme of financial stability for families.
Oglesby-Dunegan was also critical of move to hire unlicensed staff to assist in child protection cases and called for higher wages for social workers.
The movement is also finding allies. Again from the Capitol-Journal account:
The topic of stagnant wages hit home for Luke Domme and Brent Hall, members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union, which represents Frito-Lay employees. Union workers at the plant picketed Saturday in front of the Topeka facility and plan additional demonstrations Tuesday ahead of contract negotiations later this week.
Union officials say Frito-Lay’s wages combined with rising insurance coasts place workers in a hole. In the last three-year contract, which expired in September, workers received a 1 percent bonus for years one and two, which was $600 to $800 for most workers, and then a 1 percent wage increase the third year. The proposed contract for the next three years, which the BCTWGM union workers rejected in April, also proposed bonuses and a 1 percent wage increase.
Domme said the union stood in solidarity with the Poor People’s Campaign on wages and was critical of companies who receive tax benefits without raising wages.
As Camp indicates, the Kentucky, Washington D.C, and Michigan protest were also Poor Peoples Campaign initiatives. While the movement has an extensive list of demand, including free higher education and a debt jubilee, the local protests appear to focus on subsets of issues that are hot buttons for that community. Moreover, the leaders recognize that this is a campaign, and being able to have meaningful-sized rallies on a regular basis sends a message that these citizens will no longer be ignored.
I hope readers will send information about events in their communities so we can include them in Links and Water Cooler.