This system is working the way that it’s supposed to, for the wealthy. Our society is sick and we need a moral revolution.

Mikaela Curry

The Poor People’s Jubilee Platform

On July 16, 2020, the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival released its legislative and policy priorities in an online briefing joined by over 200 people, including members of Congress, leaders from the Campaign’s 45 state coordinating committees and faith and national partner organizations. A Moral Policy Agenda to Heal America: The Poor People’s Jubilee Platform includes specific prescriptions to address the interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism and the war economy. It is also grounded in five moral and Constitutional principles that counter the false narrative of religious extremism that has narrowed our political imagination and paralyzed our national politics.

These principles are:

  1. We need a moral revolution of values to repair the breach in our society. This platform abides by our deepest Constitutional and moral commitments to justice. Where harm has been done, it must be acknowledged and undone.
  2. Everybody in, nobody out. Too many people are hurting, and we can’t be silent anymore. Everybody is deserving of our nation’s abundance.
  3. When you lift from the bottom, everybody rises. Instead of “trickle-down,” we start with the bottom up.
  4. Prioritize the leadership of the poor, low-income and most impacted. Those who are on the frontlines of these crises must also be in the lead in identifying their solutions.
  5. Debts that cannot be paid must be relieved. We demand freedom from servicing the debts we cannot pay.

The policy solutions in the Jubilee Platform reflect years of organizing and analysis from those on the frontlines of the struggles of the poor and dispossessed for voting rights, education, immigration justice, indigenous rights, welfare, living wages, good jobs, housing, health care, water, welfare, climate justice, peace in our communities, peace in this world, and more. It is informed by people and communities who have both an intimate knowledge of the injustices they are facing and an analysis of what will resolve them. Taken together, they have the potential to transform the whole structure of American life.

Indeed, this platform is not a proposal to tinker around the edges. Rather, it is a plan to reconstruct society around the needs and hopes of the poor. “Jubilee” is a reference to the codes in the Bible that established a commitment to cancel debts, release slaves, pay fair wages, provide for the poor and hungry and allow the land to recover from overuse. These codes formed a covenant with God to right the wrongs of a nation of people. The term “Jubilee” has often been invoked as shorthand for the promise of freedom, from the Abolitionist movement to today.

This is the promise carried forward in the Jubilee Platform. And, we who believe in freedom will not rest until it comes.

Below are edited excerpts from the July 16, 2020 briefing on the Poor People’s Campaign’s Jubilee Platform. Viewers included Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, staff and members from the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and broad representation from the Campaign’s network of 45 coordinating committees, national partner organizations and faith bodies. Speaker Pelosi agreed to share the Jubilee Platform with members of the House of Representatives; members of Congress expressed their support and commitment to its principles and priorities; and state leaders who are directly impacted by the interlocking injustices shared how this Platform expresses their needs and demands.

In the weeks and months ahead, the Poor People’s Campaign will continue to organize around the Jubilee Platform and build the power to bring these priorities to the center of the political discourse for the November 2020 elections and beyond. Watch a video of the entire briefing here.

Reverend Dr. Barber (Co-Chair): The Poor People’s Jubilee Platform is not a left or right, conservative or liberal platform, but a moral platform, that is rooted in our deepest religious principles, our deepest constitutional principles, and yes, our deepest economic policies. We know that the cost of inequality is worse than the cost of fixing it. We’ve done our homework, and we know what’s out there. We want you to know that this platform comes from the people and it presents the possibility for healing this country, not just from recent events, but from the long train of abuses that dates back decades.

Reverend Dr. Theoharis (Co-Chair): We are living in the richest country in the world, and yet, there are 140 million poor and low-income people who struggle to make ends meet, who are dying in a land of abundance. There are 250,000 people who die every year in this country from poverty and inequality, 62 million workers who work jobs that pay less than a living wage and 80 million people who are uninsured or underinsured, even in this public health crisis and pandemic. We have fewer voting rights today than we did when the Voting Rights Act was passed more than 50 years ago. And, communities all across this nation are being militarized, abandoned by economic and social institutions and devastated by the climate crisis.

For too long our society, including Congress, has invested in punishing the poor, but what we’re saying here, with this Moral Policy Agenda to Heal the Nation, is that we must now invest in the welfare of all. Scarcity is a myth, a lie. We know the money is there to be found and could be moved in the direction that the Jubilee Platform, and the poor, are indicating.

These are times of enormous possibility and staggering danger; these are moments that must be met with unbridled imagination, absolute seriousness and a grounding in the five principles of this Platform. In a world distinctly stacked against the poor, we believe — we know — that we can win.

Shailly Gupta Barnes (Policy Director): The Jubilee Platform shows concretely how to implement the Moral Agenda that we released in 2018, around which we have been organizing in 45 states across the country, an agenda that reflects the needs and demands of the 140 million who are poor or one emergency away from being poor in the wealthiest country in the world. There are five sections to the Platform, which I will summarize briefly.

Part I. End Systemic Racism and Establish Justice: The Right to Democracy and Equal Protection Against the Law

  • Voting Rights. We have seen that, since the Shelby v. Holder decision in 2013, 25 states have passed voter suppression laws that target Black, Brown, Native and poor voters. We call for a new preclearance formula that would include all of the jurisdictions covered under the Voting Rights Act and the jurisdictions that have passed voter suppression laws since Shelby. We also need to legislate all of our voting rights around automatic voter registration, early registration, and more including vote-by-mail for everybody right now.
  • Indigenous Rights. Protecting and honoring the rights of First Nations and Indigenous people means ensuring that their institutions are adequately funded and that their land, resources and Constitutional rights, including the rights to free expression of their religion, are protected.
  • End Police Brutality, Mass Incarceration. We include prescriptions to demilitarize the police, end mass incarceration, redirect resources to impacted communities, change sentencing guidelines and establish a national truth commission on this form of state violence. We need to transform the pain of individuals, families and communities into the power to change this unjust system of criminal violence.
  • Immigrant Rights. Instead of criminalizing, detaining and deporting immigrants, we call for an immigration system that prioritizes their families by redirecting resources from ICE, Border Patrol and the border wall towards family reunification, documentation, job security, labor protections and securing the general welfare of all.
  • Emergency Management. Emergency management is the undemocratic takeover of local and state governments by managers who are brought in to solve budget crises, often in minority-majority cities. They are accountable only to financial interests and have the power to slash school budgets, cut public contracts, privatize public assets and more. It was an emergency manager that made the decision that poisoned the entire city of Flint. We need a moratorium on emergency manager laws, and we need to return governance over to elected officials and ensure that cities don’t fall into budget crises by establishing indicators that will infuse federal resources into cities facing fiscal distress.
  • Protect Public Education. We call for an overhaul of our education system to expand funding for early childhood education, Head Start and K-12 education; end the segregation of schools whether by income, race, or ability; and provide the infrastructure and support that schools, administrations, faculty and teachers need for our children today. We also call for expanded resources for higher education, including making college free for anyone who wants to attend; relieving student debt, beginning with 100% debt relief for borrowers who are earning less than $50,000 a year; and increased support for HBCUs and tribal schools.

Part II. Promote the General Welfare: The Right to Welfare and an Adequate Standard of Living

  • Change the Poverty Measure. How we measure poverty is anachronistic and must be changed to reflect the current costs of living. We need to update the poverty measure based on these costs and ensure that all federal assistance programs are pegged to that measure.
  • Universal Guaranteed and Adequate Income. We call for a universal guaranteed adequate income where everybody will receive $2,000 per month ($1,000 for children). We also include a care income to include the unpaid but deeply important care-work and housework that keeps our economy going.
  • The Right to Welfare. We call for welfare as a right that strengthens our society. We’re going to end TANF; establish a direct cash assistance program for the poor; expand welfare programs that do work like SNAP; and expand who is eligible for those programs, including immigrants and people who are formerly incarcerated.
  • Protect and Expand Social Security, SSI, SSDI. To ensure we can all have adequate standards of living at all times, these critical sources of income must be protected and expanded in times of crisis, when necessary.
  • Housing for all. There are 10 million people already in this country who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness, and 20 million more face evictions in the coming weeks, but there are also 18 million vacant homes right now. We need to stop all evictions; mobilize public resources and capacity to turn vacant homes into habitable homes; expand rental assistance and make sure that housing costs are affordable; curb housing speculation; and penalize financial and other interests that have made money off of homelessness.

Part III. Ensure Domestic Tranquility: The Right to Work with Dignity

  • Update the Unemployment Measure. As with the poverty measure, the unemployment measure that’s currently used leaves out too many people. We are proposing an alternative measure that will capture the precarious nature of work today. Unemployment coverage was expanded during the pandemic to include many categories of workers who are left out of the standard measure of unemployment, and millions of people are now relying on that expanded coverage to make ends meet. We must secure that expanded coverage, make sure the expanded definition is made permanent and change how we measure unemployment to ensure that everybody has the necessary coverage when we need it.
  • Living Wages. We’re calling for at least $15 an hour, immediately, and then moving up to a real housing wage so we don’t have to work three, four and five jobs to make ends meet. A real housing wage in 2019 was $23 an hour.
  • Jubilee Jobs Program. We need a federal jobs program to secure full employment as a right in this country. The Jubilee Jobs Program prioritizes socially beneficial industries with massive investments in childcare, health care, caregiving, education, housing, mass transit, water and utilities infrastructure and cultural production. It will prioritize deindustrialized areas, rural, poor and low-income communities, small towns and Indigenous communities.
  • Secure the Right to Form and Join Unions. All workers must have the right to free association and to form and join unions.

Part IV. Secure the Blessings of Liberty: The Right to Health and a Healthy Environment

  • Health Care for All. We need to expand Medicaid to all states and move towards a universal single-payer health system for all. We must expand our health care infrastructure, re-open hospitals that were closed and protect hospitals at risk of closure. We need to move our national resources and capacity to ensure that our health is taken care of, regardless of where we live or how much money we have.
  • End Medical Debt. We call for a fund that draws on the past and future profits of insurance, pharmaceutical and other health care companies to end medical debt, especially for poor and low-income people.
  • Secure Water and Utilities for All. We need a national moratorium on all water and utility shut offs, and where they have been shut off, these utilities must be turned back on. We also need a National Water Affordability Plan that is based on a person’s ability to pay. No one should be denied water or utilities because it’s too expensive. This will be funded, in part, by profits from water companies that are operational in the United States and returning water utilities back to the public sector to ensure that our basic needs for water are not a basis for private gain.
  • Declare Climate Change a National Emergency. Establish a Green Jobs Corps. We need to become a global leader on the climate crisis, as we have been before; end reliance on a fossil fuel economy and move massive national resources towards this emergency. Through the Green Jobs Corps, we will build up communities that have been reliant on fossil fuels and make new investments in green energy.
  • Profiteering from Climate Crisis. We will look into the profits gained by fossil fuel companies, agribusiness, military contractors, financial institutions and insurance companies and redirect that wealth towards the green economy we all need.

Part V. Provide for the Common Defense: Reprioritizing Our National Resources

  • End the Culture of War. We call for cutting $350 billion from the military budget, including closing bases, ending nuclear proliferation and cutting overhead costs.
  • Institute Fair Taxes. Over the past few months, there has been more wealth gained by the wealthy than the budget shortfalls that states are going to suffer due to the economic fallout from this pandemic. Those shortfalls mean that programs that poor and low-income households and families rely on will be cut. We must redirect wealth that has been wrongfully gained and move it towards what people truly need. The Jubilee Platform will raise $880 billion per year, or $8.9 trillion over 10 years, from these taxes that will go towards its programs and prescriptions.
  • End Profiteering from Crisis. Massive wealth inequality and investments in the military are distortions of our democracy that end up making the rich richer at the expense of the poor. Whether it’s the climate crisis, the housing crisis, the health crisis, or war, no longer will death and misery be a basis of wealth and profit.

This is the platform that we’re building power around: to move and direct the abundance of this country towards human needs. We know that the 140 million people in this country will not abide any more cruel and unnecessary suffering.

Mikaela Curry (Kentucky PPC): A lot of times when people think of rural areas, rural Eastern Kentucky, rural people, they have fixed ideas about what that is and who we are, but we’re not to blame for the regressive policies that are affecting Kentucky, the American South, and all of America.

We need the Jubilee Platform in Kentucky because we need employment that is socially beneficial and centered on community care. We are coming together, all of us, from all of our areas where extractive economies have robbed our communities. In Martin County, Kentucky, they had a coal slurry spill back in 2000 and the water there is still not safe to drink, with carcinogens and nervous system disruptors in their drinking water. The Kentucky Public Service Commission has said that they are in a constant state of emergency. Since January 2018, the rates for water service in Martin County are unaffordable for at least half of the people who are living there.

That is why we in Kentucky need a full financial assessment like we call for in the Jubilee Platform of the environmental damages caused by fossil fuels and extractive economies. We need to declare climate change a national emergency, because it is.

And we know that we have to get Mitch McConnell out of Kentucky. But we also have to get out of this system. This system is working the way that it’s supposed to, for the wealthy. Our society is sick, and we need a moral revolution.

Maureen Taylor (Michigan PPC): I serve as the state chairperson for the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization. And last night the protections that were offered to individuals to keep them in their homes because they couldn’t pay rent (and they couldn’t pay rent because of the virus), ended at 12:01. We’ve got some 10,000 households, just in Detroit, that are now thinking, “what can we do to stay in our homes?”

What have they done wrong? They didn’t do anything wrong. The virus showed up and we are on our own. New York does what it wants to do. Michigan does what she wants to do. California does what they want to do and across the nation we have nothing but total chaos. And who is bearing the brunt of all of this madness? It’s the low-income Indian, the low-income Negro, the low-income Hispanic, and the low-income white person. They’re holding on just by their very teeth.

As we talk about the Jubilee Platform, we don’t have to be hamstrung by old ideas that say, “We can’t do that. We can’t fund this. We can’t imagine that.” We live in an economy that allows technology to make certain that we can get whatever the heck we need. We raise this question of affordable housing — we could do that by the end of August. If we say we need Universal Health Care, we can do it by the end of September. If we say we need nutritional food for everybody, California, Florida, if they stop spreading COVID, can feed the entire country. We can fix that by the end of October. When we talk about the need for education from birth to death, by the end of the year we are able to figure that out.

Abigail Mosely (North Carolina PPC): I am a 2020 graduate of Bennett College and an intern at the Beloved Community Center of Greensboro. I have many friends who are organizers and active community members who know just how valuable and necessary their participation is in the political process.

However, I recognize within others a feeling of resignation, especially my peers from North Carolina A&T State University, who experienced voter suppression firsthand when their campus was split into two districts, diluting the black youth vote. And so many view the political world as a morally corrupt space filled with power-hungry individuals and politicians. I recognize this in them, because four years ago, it was exactly how I felt. I felt discouraged. I felt unimportant, devalued, suppressed, even erased.

The Poor People’s Campaign Jubilee Platform encourages that the right to participate in the voting process be established as an indicator of democracy. It ensures that young people like me, people of color like me, poor people, and other minority groups, are not systematically suppressed, as they have been throughout history. The right to vote should not be dependent upon one’s race, economic status, whether one has been or is incarcerated, or level of education.

Kenia Alcocer (California PPC): I’m an undocumented immigrant and a mother of two. This Jubilee Platform is very important for us here in California and for me personally.

California is the fifth biggest economy in the world. We produce one-third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of the nation’s fruits and nuts, but people here are still starving.

I organize with Union de Vecinos and the Los Angeles Tenants Union and one of the things that we’ve been working around, since April 1, is a rent strike. Our community members are calling us, letting us know that they weren’t able to pay rent on April 1, that they have lost their jobs, family members have gotten sick with COVID. Those who qualify for unemployment are filing for unemployment, but those of us who are undocumented don’t have the ability to qualify for any of the services or relief.

If you tell me that you will give me citizenship tomorrow, as an undocumented person it would be meaningless to me unless it came attached with a guarantee to have a home for my children, debt relief for medical expenses and a guarantee that everybody would have to right to live.

I am sad today, because I actually testified [on Capitol Hill] with Pamela Rush, a leader with the Alabama PPC who recently died. She should have been here enjoying the fruits of her labor and celebrating the fact that we have accomplished what we’ve set out to accomplish today. And Pamela is one of many soldiers of this poor and dispossessed army that we’re building who has fallen, but will never be forgotten, because we will continue to fight.

We are here today to say that we have become more than a movement. We have become a family, and this family will stick together and fight through anything and everything to make sure that we win.