Building a New Poor People’s Campaign

Check out the Poor People’s Campaign’s website
Read the concept paper for the effort to reignite Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign today here.
You can find a list of resources we’ve been sharing with leaders interested in being a part of the PPC here.
To find out how you can get involved with the call for a new Poor People’s Campaign, scroll to the bottom of this page or click here.

Building on long-standing work by the Poverty Initiative, the Kairos Center is reaching out to partners and allies, both actual and potential, to move toward a new Poor People’s Campaign to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the one begun in 1967 by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and on which he was working when he was assassinated. The goal is not to commemorate the past, but to learn from it in order to create a transformative movement to abolish poverty in the U.S that will also connect with global movements. A strategic dialogue on this idea began on April 24, 2014 with a gathering of 100 leaders representing over 40 organizations and will continue throughout the year. The success of such a campaign depends on it not being, or being seen as, the project of any single organization, but rather of a broad movement that speaks to all related issues and most particularly addresses race and gender inequality.

On December 4, 1967 the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, announcing plans for a Poor People’s Campaign, called for transformative actions to end poverty. Despite his assassination and deep divisions in the country and movement, the mobilization of the poor went forward but was cut short. The U.S. Government, consumed by waging war, did not heed the call.

The price the country has paid for that failure is terrible and continues to grow. Today we are experiencing, both globally and nationally, unprecedented poverty and hardship in the midst of unheard of abundance and record inequality. In the United States, at least 46.5 million people, including 1 of every 5 children, live in poverty. Another 97.3 million are officially designated as low income. This means that nearly one in every two people is poor or low income with most others only an economic or health setback from joining them. Meanwhile, despite the official celebration of civil rights advances, racial and gender inequality remain as deep as ever.

Throughout the country, and the world, there is growing resistance and struggles pushed forward by people who are literally organizing and fighting for their lives, rights and deepest values. People are fighting on a host of fronts: for good affordable homes, health, education, reproductive choices, racial and gender equality, voting rights and democracy, peace and a humane immigration system, living wages and good jobs, access to quality food and water, protection of the planet and an end to mass and cruel incarceration.

When these and other issues are joined in a common moral vision we see the growth of historic movements. We see important victories on different issues. Yet we are all painfully aware of the limits of our victories as overall conditions worsen and inequality and poverty continue to spread. Those in the forefront of these struggles see the need to connect better too often separated battles and begin creating the broad and deep social movement needed to take on not just the rotten fruits of poverty, inequality, and oppression but to transform the national and global structures that produce them.

This is the vision of the poor people’s campaign, then and now. To create it requires not replacing but incorporating, strengthening the connections between, and building on the struggles now taking place. It will require continually confronting the deep divisions along racial, gender, class, religious, geographic and other lines, that have been deliberately created and maintained to keep those with a common interests apart and weakened. It will require learning from each other and from our particular struggles. This must be done globally as well as nationally as growing struggles around the world have revealed that the struggle to end poverty in one county must confront the global systems that produce it in all.

And above all, creating such a campaign means having those most directly affected playing a leading role. The poor and dispossessed have come to embody all the major injustices of our time. This gives them the capability of being what King called “a new and unsettling force” and providing a rallying point for a broader and more powerful social movement. As history has shown, from the fight to end slavery and wars, for women’s, labor, LGBTQ and civil rights, an essential step in building a powerful movement is uniting and mobilizing those most deeply affected.

History has also shown that a powerful movement requires the involvement and support of all sectors with an interest in a radically different society—which means nearly everyone. Not only are the poor increasingly drawn from every sector of society, but even those who feel economically secure see that mass poverty and economic hardship amidst such wealth and productive power obscenely violates our most sacred values. This is why King called for a revolution of values and put at the heart of the struggle a moral vision of a society where people are not treated as commodities to be thrown away but as precious brothers and sisters. We must do the same.

2017 will mark the both anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign launched by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—his last, and in profound ways most far reaching and challenging, campaign. It is not an accident that King’s challenge and unrealized objective of a transformative restructuring of U.S. society has been given little national attention. For that reason alone it will be important to honor the anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign. Given the conditions of poverty, inequality and injustice we face today the only genuine way to commemorate the past struggle is to launch a new one for today.

The first step in building the campaign, now underway, is for all interested groups to reach out to and start discussion with as many other as possible. As these conversations develop so will the plans and the structures that will make a powerful Poor Peoples Campaign for today possible.

Get involved!

  • Endorse the call for a new Poor People’s Campaign as an organization or individual through the Poor People’s Campaign’s website
  • Promote and discuss the call for a new Poor People’s Campaign with others, either as an individual or by adding information about the PPC to your organization’s website. You can use the concept paper and our study materials to help.
  • Join monthly Poor People’s Campaign for Today conference calls (next one is 8pm EST on Wed. March 18). Email us for more details.
  • Sign up for the Kairos e-newsletter.
  • Email us at newpoorpeoplescampaign@gmail.com and tell us about the work your group or organization is doing.
  • Host a delegation from the Poor People’s Campaign National Organizing Tour.
  • Stay in touch through Facebook and Twitter.
  • Watch the video of the November 2015 event highlighting leaders in the fight for the human right to water, pointing toward the need for a new Poor People’s Campaign.