The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival has been in Washington, D.C. for the past few days to declare that we are here to challenge the evils of poverty, systemic racism, militarism, and environmental devastation with a press conference, an action in the Capitol building, and a concert and mass meeting hosted by SANKOFA.
At the Capitol building, we attempted to deliver a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell condemning the tax bill that, if given final approval, would amount to one of the most immoral laws in our nation’s history:
As this legislation heads to a final vote in Congress, the country’s poor and disenfranchised, along with moral leaders and people of conscience nationwide, call on you to stop the gross act of violence these bills would commit against our nation’s most vulnerable to serve its richest and most powerful.
You and your colleagues in the Senate approved this legislation under the cover of night, voting in the final hours to reward some of the country’s most powerful corporations and industries. The poor, working poor and most vulnerable in our society will pay for the billions in tax breaks you approved for the most wealthy among us …
You and many of your colleagues say you are Christians and that you let your religion guide your policymaking. You even say you are “pro-life.” But your actions are stripping people of the healthcare they need to survive. You are working to pass legislation that is antithetical to the more than 2,000 verses that call on all of us to care for the poor and the sick.
You assert that this tax scheme will grow the economy, thus helping everyone. But no independent analysis agrees. Mr. Majority Leader, you are acting on faith, in spite of the evidence. We are writing to inform you that your faith is not in line with the Scriptures, nor with what your party’s first President called “the better angels of our nature.”
This country’s most vulnerable will not remain silent as this immoral legislation moves through Congress. Tens of thousands of poor and disenfranchised people, clergy and moral leaders today announced that we are coming together to launch the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. We will combine direct action with grassroots organizing, voter registration, and power building in the largest wave of nonviolent civil disobedience in U.S. history. Fifty years to the day after Dr. Martin Luther King and others called for the original Poor People’s Campaign, this legislation you are championing makes clear that we need this work now more than ever. [Read the rest of the letter here.]
With all of our activity in the nation’s capital, the press has begun to notice the Campaign—here are some of the recent highlights:
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, “The Republican tax bill is not just immoral. It is an act of violence,” in The Guardian:
We know our nation has a heart problem when our elected leaders would rather fight a war on the poor than a war on poverty. This is bigger than any one bill. Legislation like this could only come so close to fruition in a broken political system.
In the 2016 elections, candidates across parties held 26 debates, and in all those hours there was not one mention of poverty or systemic oppression. The voices of America’s poor have been forgotten by those in power, who continue to push a narrative that the poor are poor through fault of their own.
For things to change poor people and people of conscience will have to stand up by the tens of thousands and demand to be heard. On Monday, we are launching the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, a movement of direct action, civil disobedience, voter education and mass mobilization aimed at saving the soul of the nation.
Now, 50 years after Dr Martin Luther King, welfare rights workers and many others called for the original Poor People’s Campaign, there is still much work to be done. Whether the tax bill succeeds or fails, it has given the country’s poor, as well as people of faith and conscience who stand with them, one more reason to stand up and sound the call for the moral revival our country so desperately needs.
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, “Rev. Dr. Barber & Rev. Dr. Theoharis: It’s Time to Fight for America’s Soul,” Time Magazine:
This campaign is not about a single party or policy agenda. It’s about saving the soul of America by challenging the enmeshed evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and our distorted national morality. These forces have been tearing apart America’s moral fabric long before President Donald Trump’s election last year. But Trump’s nationalist and demagogic campaign and presidency highlight how extremist politicians in state houses and Washington have continued to gain power by dividing the poor and disenfranchised along racial, religious and other lines.
“Ministers Look to Revive Martin Luther King’s 1968 Poverty Campaign,” The New York Times:
On Monday, exactly 50 years after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began his Poor People’s Campaign, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, a black minister and civil rights leader from North Carolina, and the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, a white theologian originally from Milwaukee, will announce a revival of Dr. King’s campaign, which stalled when he was assassinated in 1968. Organizers now hope to mount large protests on 40 consecutive days next year, in at least 25 state capitals and other locations, with crowds in the tens of thousands courting arrest.
“Nothing is going to change until we put a face on it, until we drive the public discourse, until we restart the moral narrative,” Dr. Barber said in an interview.
“10 Reasons to Revive the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign,” The Nation:
For those who may doubt the need for such a campaign, a new Institute for Policy Studies report provides more than ample evidence. By many measures, what King called the “evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism” are worse today than they were five decades ago. Toss in climate change and other environmental threats, and the picture is even more grim.
“Even before the election of Donald Trump, the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the country’s distorted national morality were tearing apart the social fabric in America,” said the Rev. Liz Theoharis, the campaign’s co-chair. “But with extremists who stand against voting rights, living wages, health care and immigration reform gaining even more influence today in Washington and in statehouses across the country, the need for this campaign is more urgent than ever.”
Katrina vanden Heuvel, “A new Poor People’s Campaign wants to change how society defines morality,” The Washington Post:
In the wealthiest country in the world, poverty is still taking a devastating toll on millions of people of all races. Today, there are 95 million poor or low-income Americans. Fifty-eight million work for less than $15 an hour, meaning they are denied a living wage. More than 30 million children currently live at or below twice the federal poverty line, according to IPS, which is “considered the minimum for meeting basic family needs.” Income inequality is growing, and the toxic combination of tax breaks for the rich and devastating cuts to the social safety net threatens to make the problem much worse.
On Monday, after holding the press conference, Barber and Theoharis lead a march to Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office after the press conference, to lead a pray-in and deliver a letter regarding the tax bill to the majority Senate leader.
During Monday’s press conference, Barber called the tax bill — which was recently passed by Senate Republicans in the dead of night — “racist” and “immoral.” In the letter, signed by representatives from at least 23 human rights and advocacy organizations, the group says that the tax legislation “would amount to one of the most immoral laws in our nation’s history.”
“We must transform the moral narrative in this country,” Rev. Barber said in an emailed statement. ”Now we are witnessing an emboldened attack on the poor and an exacerbation of systemic racism that demands a response. This is not about saving any one party or policy agenda, but about saving the soul of America.”
Following the performance by [Yara] Allen and her bandmates from North Carolina, Reverend William Barber stepped onto center stage and in the strongest terms made plain the importance of music, and the arts, in this 21st century struggle for equality, bridging movements that have traditionally stayed siloed. “The singing that literally changes your mind,” he intoned, “is the same singing that will make you leave the Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma, Alabama, walk out and get beaten, walk back, bandage yourself up, sing some more and then go out again,” making reference to 1965’s Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. “The poor people, the broken people, have to lead the breakthrough to justice. When the rejected come together, we can in fact change society.”
Maxwell, who closed the evening with his 1996 hit “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder),” went further. “We’ll see what happens, but I truly feel like we’re gonna be alright,” he noted. “What’s interesting about getting to this place from when I grew up and first started out as an artist, is seeing the greater responsibility, not just to people of color, because I would naturally be drawn to them anyway, but everyone, people in general living in poverty who don’t have the opportunity to be educated about the system and challenging it in a certain way. Sankofa and the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is where my vibe is.”
Roland S. Martin for News One:
The Associated Press also ran a number of images from our action at the Capitol that have appeared around the country in stories about the Tax Bill protests in D.C. yesterday. Here’s one example from The San Francisco Chronicle.
Yesterday in D.C., we announced our movement will unite tens of thousands of people across the country to engage in direct action at statehouses and the U.S. Capitol next spring—a six-week protest highlighted by one of the largest waves of civil disobedience in U.S. history.