The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival and its co-chairs, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Kairos co-director Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, have been all over the country this summer and fall for a series of Mass Meetings held, so far, in 10 different states. With this new visibility, the Campaign has continued to receive attention in the press and other media. Here are some of the recent highlights.
For NBC Think, Rev. Dr. Barber explains how “Trump’s Evangelical Fans Preach the Gospel of Greed, Not Grace“:
In 1968, Dr. King said we need a “revolution of values.” And yet Trump, with more than three years left in his presidential term, has already initiated a national devolution of values, not a revolution.
I have been crossing this country for the past eight weeks with the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, meeting in churches and synagogues and community colleges with thousands of people who know we need a values revolution in America. Following in the footsteps of Dr. King, we are building a Poor People’s Campaign and Moral Revival to not only reclaim our time, but also to reclaim our values, which have been hijacked by extremists.
Corporate sponsorship has bloated the public image of extremism. But there are far more people of faith and conscience who want to revive the heart and soul of our democracy than there are those wishing to pollute it.
Last week, the men and women who crowded into that D.C. ballroom claimed to be attending a values conference. But instead, they proved yet again how morally bankrupt a vocal segment of Christianity has become.
And so today, we invite the millions of people who truly believe in the teachings of Jesus to stand up and speak out for a true #ValuesRevolution. Let’s show America what a true moral majority looks like. (Read the rest of the piece here.)
For The Christian Century, Celeste Kennel-Shank reflects on how the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is confronting the four interlocking issues — evils — of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and ecological devastation. Reporting on the Chicago Mass Meeting of the Campaign, Kennel-Shank writes:
Theoharis brought many of the estimated 225 people in attendance to their feet when she asked whether they were ready to join a national movement to shift the moral narrative and conditions in society.
“We are going to change this country and make it what it has not yet been for all of us,” Theoharis said.
Barber, who was wearing a stole that said “Jesus was a poor man,” drew from Luke 4:18–19, using his preferred translation of verse 19, which says Christ came to “proclaim the year of the Lord’s breakthrough.”
“America needs a breakthrough,” he said. While there were many references throughout the evening to President Trump, Barber said the campaign would be calling for a moral revival regardless of who occupied the White House.
“We’re coming together across all kinds of divides,” he said, after having quoted from the Qur’an and emphasizing that the campaign supports women’s rights and LGBTQ rights.
He also spoke to regional differences, and how states in the North are also affected by the issues the campaign is addressing, telling the Midwestern audience with a playful tone not to “be talking about us down South all the time.”
Barber, who became known in North Carolina for fighting voter suppression laws, noted that states with compromised voting rights are also ones with the highest poverty rates, environmental damage, and other problems. These states then elect politicians who vote against the poor and marginalized, he said.
Barber said, “If they are cynical enough to be together, we’d better be smart enough to come together.” (Read the rest of the article here.)
In the “50 Voices for 50 Years” series of the National Civil Rights Museum’s MLK 50 project, Jeanne Theoharis provides a deep look at the background and thinking of the new Poor People’s Campaign, including the Poverty Initiative and Kairos Center’s many years of organizing:
Activists at the Poverty Initiative and Kairos Center at Union Theological Seminary had been building the groundwork for a new Poor People’s Campaign for a number of years—stitching together a coalition of parents from Flint, Fight for $15 workers, young activists in Ferguson, coal miners in West Virginia, farm workers in Immokalee, welfare rights activists and water warriors in Detroit and the Gulf Coast, homeless activists and cultural artists from New York to California, and others committed to transformative social change. With poor people as leaders and organizers, this meant addressing police brutality, restoring the social safety net, attacking environmental racism, paying living wages, fighting for immigrant rights, and making affordable housing, food, and health care available for all.
The synergy between what Kairos was doing and Barber’s vision culminated in a Moral Revival tour in fall 2016 and the call for a new PPC. “There is a refusal to see and hear what is really happening to the poor,” Barber observed. “In 26 hours of presidential debates there was not one hour on poverty. Not one hour on voting rights. Not even 15 minutes.” In fall 2017, Barber, Theoharis, and their crew of anti-poverty crusaders began to cris-cross the country from Tempe to Kansas City to Lexington to Los Angeles, making connections with local organizations, holding mass meetings and building movement capacity for 40 days of action in the spring. One key difference from 1968 was they were targeting not just Congress but also state legislatures as part of the problem. (Read the rest of the article here.)
Last week, Jim Vrettos wrote a piece for Tikkun Magazine, a great review of Rev. Dr. Theoharis’ recent book, Always with Us? What Jesus Really Said About the Poor. Vrettos especially highlights the connections between Jesus’ mandate to end poverty with the Jewish teaching of tikkun olam, God’s command to repair the world:
For Tikkun followers and others, the “Good News” is that Theoharis has done a meticulous documentation of Jesus’ teachings and actions around poverty, wealth, and power, especially in Matthew’s Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 26:11), which show him to be the “New Moses” — a social movement leader with a revolutionary economic program who brings new instruction and understanding of law and justice to a people in need of healing, dignity and freedom.
Those familiar with the Poverty and Justice Bible where over 2,000 verses are highlighted to illustrate the heart and love the Bible illustrates for the poor and oppressed will find Theoharis’s work a welcome and helpful addition, particularly as she draws an absolute and necessary connection of faith and scripture to concrete commitment to justice for the poor. …
The book is no less than a call for a liberation theology for the United States in the twenty-first century — justice is the poor leading a movement to end poverty once and for all. The concrete form through which she is working to help bring this about is the revival of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 Poor People’s Campaign in which he called for poor people of every race to unite in order to end what he called “the tripartite evils of society” — poverty, racism and militarism. (Read the rest of the review here.)
Finally, check out the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York’s recent report emerging from the Truth Commission on Poverty in New York State, with a powerful forward written by the Kairos Center’s Shailly Gupta Barnes. And if you missed the livestreams of the recent Poor People’s Campaign Mass Meetings, view them here, along with other articles, Twitter moments, and media from the events.
The next stop of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival will be at the border, in El Paso, Texas on Sunday, October 22. Join us as we continue to build a powerful movement led by the poor and dispossessed to end poverty, racism, militarism, and ecological destruction, forever.