MEMPHIS – Leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival marched with hundreds of striking fast-food workers Monday on the 50th anniversary of the historic Memphis sanitation worker strike, kicking off a two-month national tour to shine a light on the harshest poverty in the nation and lift up the leadership of poor and disenfranchised people who are organizing for change.
The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the campaign, and the Rev. Traci Blackmon, a member of the national steering committee, met with McDonald’s workers on a lunchtime strike line in Memphis Monday, hearing about workers’ struggles to get by on minimum wage pay and their fight for $15 and union rights.
From Memphis, leaders of the campaign will travel Tuesday to Marks, Miss., the Quitman County town Dr. King visited in March 1968, witnessing poverty that brought him to tears, provided inspiration for the first Poor People’s Campaign, and where he vowed that the Mule Train to Washington should set out, one of nine caravans that converged at Resurrection City in the summer of 1968. Leaders from the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival will meet with young people in Marks and host a community meal with poor people and organizers from around Mississippi, as well as fast-food workers from Memphis and activists from Arkansas.
“In order to transform the moral narrative in the U.S. we must start by addressing the attention violence that blocks out the racial and economic injustice inflicted on poor and marginalized communities across the country,” said the Rev. Dr. William Barber, co-chair of the campaign. “Moral agents in places forgotten and dismissed by those in power are standing up to demand change, and by standing with them, we will help save the soul of our nation.”
The tour by the Rev. Drs. Barber and Theoharis will stretch from Appalachia to the Rust Belt to the Central Valley of California, reaching more than a half-dozen cities nationwide. It comes one week after thousands of poor people, clergy and activists announced they are joining the campaign, flooding state capitol buildings in 30 states 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 are traveling the nation, meeting up with poor and marginalized people who are uniting and organizing to end systemic racism, poverty, militarism and the war economy and ecological devastation,” said the Rev. Dr. Theoharis. “Grassroots leaders are coming together across lines of division to become a powerful force for change in this nation.”
A full list of the dates and locations of the tour is below:
- Feb. 23 – Detroit, Mich.: Joined by leaders of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, union leaders and the Michigan Coordinating Committee of the Poor People’s Campaign, the Revs. Theoharis and Barber will visit families whose water has been shut off, retirees who have lost their pensions, families who have been evicted from their homes, low wage workers who are fighting for $15 and a union and communities polluted by the oil and gas industry.
- Feb 25-26 – Grays Harbor, Wash.: In Washington, the Revs. Theoharis and Barber will meet with native communities struggling with homelessness in Seattle before heading to Grays Harbor, a poor, predominantly white county that has one of the highest rates of juvenile incarceration in the country and rampant homelessness.
- Mar. 2 – Selma, Ala.: In Selma, just before the Bloody Sunday anniversary, the Revs. Theoharis and Barber will draw the connection between the attack on voting rights, systemic racism and how people are kept in poverty. They will visit forgotten neighborhoods in Selma and then travel to Lowndes County, where they will meet families who suffer from inadequate wastewater treatment. In Lowndes, conditions like the presence of raw sewage have allowed parasitic diseases like hookworm to proliferate.
- Mar. 29 – Eastern Kentucky: The Revs. Theoharis and Barber will host a roundtable of poor and disenfranchised people and members of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival from Kentucky and neighboring states from across Appalachia.
- Apr. 23 – Central Valley, Calif.: Theoharis and Barber will visit farmworker communities fighting for dignity, living wages, and immigrant rights in California’s Central Valley.
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 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.