Nationwide – Demanding elected leaders at all levels of government adopt an agenda that confronts systemic racism and lifts up the poor, thousands of poor and disenfranchised people, clergy and moral leaders in 30 states and Washington, D.C. announced Monday they are joining the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.
Poor people, clergy and activists flooded state capitol buildings from coast to coast and the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. to serve notice on state and federal legislative leaders that their failure to address the enmeshed evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and America’s distorted national morality will be met this spring with six weeks of direct action – including one of the largest waves of nonviolent civil disobedience in U.S. history.
“We have come to say clearly that a politics that ignores the poor has gone on far too long,” said Ronald A. Smith, a minister at First Christian Church Disciple of Christ in Greenville, S.C. “And we will not be silent anymore.”
In each state, delegations of impacted people and moral leaders delivered a letter to politicians highlighting dozens of racist voter suppression laws passed in recent years and a stark jump in the percentage of people living in poverty. They vowed to risk arrest beginning Mother’s Day if politicians fail to adopt a moral and just agenda.
“We demand a change in course,” the letter reads. “Our faith traditions and state and federal constitutions all testify to the immorality of an economy that leaves out the poor, yet our political discourse consistently ignores the 140 million poor and low-income people in America.”
The actions marked the first nationwide mobilization by the campaign since it launched Dec. 4, 50 years to the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others called for the original Poor People’s Campaign. In Washington, D.C., campaign co-chair the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis took to Capitol hill to deliver the letter to the offices of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan.
The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is co-organized by Repairers of the Breach, a social justice organization founded by the Rev. Dr. Barber II; the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary; and scores of local and national grassroots groups across the country.
“The need for a new moral movement is more urgent than ever,” said the Rev. Liz Theoharis, the campaign’s co-chair. “The linked evils of voter suppression laws, mass incarceration, bloated military spending, and a lack of access to clean air and water require everyone who believes in justice to come together. Our movement is breaking down barriers by uniting poor and marginalized people, moral leaders and people of all backgrounds to fight for a common moral agenda.”
The campaign is uniting the poor, disenfranchised, and marginalized across the country in an effort to transform the political, economic, and moral structures of society and to save America’s soul. It will intensify starting Mother’s Day, leading up to a mass mobilization at the U.S. Capitol June 21, and combine direct action with grassroots organizing, voter registration, power building and nonviolent civil disobedience.
“There was a time when our nation was fighting a war against poverty, but now we are waging a war on the poor,” said the Rev. Dr. Barber. “Policies that sustain systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation and extreme militarism violate our deep religious and constitutional values. Fifty years ago, Americans across all races, religions, classes and other divides united to launch a revolution of values. As the moral agents of our time, we must do the same.”
Since 1968, the number of Americans below the official poverty line has increased by 60 percent to 40.6 million, a preliminary audit released by the Institute for Policy Studies shows. In that same period, the top 1 percent’s share of national income has nearly doubled. A full version of the audit will be released this spring.
Beginning Feb. 12, the Revs. Dr. Barber and Dr. Theoharis will travel the country, putting a face not only on the deep poverty afflicting our nation, but the inspiring organizing that seeks to combat it. From the Mississippi Delta to the heart of Appalachia and from the Rust Belt to the Pacific Northwest, the campaign co-chairs will meet with poor and disenfranchised people and invite them to join the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.
Despite real political wins in 1968 and beyond, the original Poor People’s Campaign was tragically cut short, both by Dr. King’s assassination and by the subversion of the coalition that sustained it. Still, the original vision and many of its followers did not go away. The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is the product of a decade of organizing by grassroots groups, religious leaders and others to end systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation.
The campaign names so-called Christian nationalism as a threat to a shared moral agenda and focuses on the Southern and Midwestern states that have been exploited by the alliance of the Southern Strategy and the Religious Right. Its architects aim to build a broad and deep national moral movement – rooted in the leadership of poor people and reflecting the great moral teachings – to unite our country from the bottom up. A list of movement principles is here.