Poor People's Campaign

June 20, 2020

Poor and low-income people from across the country stepped out of the shadows on Saturday to participate in the Poor People’s Campaign digital social justice assembly and to demand an agenda designed to heal a nation besieged by poverty even before a pandemic and an onslaught of public murders of Black people.

They came together for the digital Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington, which was viewed on June2020.org; MSNBC’s social media platforms; C-SPAN; and many other websites and Facebook pages.

The first of three broadcasts garnered about 1.2 million views from Facebook alone,

We had over 1.1 million views from Facebook alone during the first broadcast of the digital Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington. This does not include MSNBCs broadcast on YouTube, listeners who heard it on the radio, media outlets that broadcast it from their online platforms or CSPAN.

“Poverty and racism are systemic problems that need systemic solutions. We are that solution,” said Jamilla Allen, a testifier from Durham, North Carolina, who spoke during the program.

“The war on the poor in this country seeks to blame the poor people for their circumstances. It wanted me to believe that I was the problem…but I’m lucky,” said Curtis Bradford of San Francisco. “I’m still here despite the odds, and I no longer buy into the narrative that poverty is my fault.”

The program included sections on systemic poverty; women and poverty; youth and child poverty; the LGBTQ community and poverty; poverty wages and union rights; essential workers and the pandemic; systemic racism and the pandemic; access to health care; ecological devastation; the mistreatment of Indigenous communities; systemic racism and the power of the vote; housing and homelessness; the right to education; mass incarceration and detention; the war economy; the militarization of poor communities and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.

The richest nation in the world has the resources to change its direction and to fight systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy and the false moral narrative of religious nationalism, said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.

“Now is the time. This is the place and we are the people,” Barber said. “Now this isn’t about conservative vs. liberal. That’s too puny. This isn’t about left vs. right. That’s too puny. It’s about life vs. death.”

Saturday’s program lifted up the voices of those poor and low-income people, providing them with a platform to tell the country that somebody’s been hurting them for too long, and they won’t be silent anymore.

“Those in power today want nothing more than to stop this kind of movement,” said Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. “ It’s why they spend so much time and money trying to deny us the right to vote, why they attack protesters, spread lies meant to narrow our vision and limit our aspirations, divide us up by issue and by region, by race, gender, immigration status, political party.”

But the social justice assembly was held to show that “we’re poor, we’re not going anywhere, we have come together and we will stay together, we will transform this nation from the bottom up,” Rev. Theoharis said.

Poor and low-income people have watched from the sidelines, their needs ignored, as lawmakers handed trillions of dollars in COVID-19 recovery to corporations, Rev. Barber said. But when those struggling the most in this economy seek help from Congress, they’re asked what one thing they really want.

They’re no longer willing to settle for that one thing, he said.

“The worst mistake we could make now with all of this marching and protesting in the street would be to demand too little,” Rev. Barber said.

Some 140 million people, or 43% of the country, live in poverty or low-income in this country, and 700 people die each day from poverty — that’s 250,000 people a year. And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic that disproportionately infected and killed people of color and poor people.

The debilitating effects of poverty begin early and last a lifetime. College student Karla Mendez Guerrero of Washington, D.C.,  who is deaf and attends Gallaudet University, said she’s overwhelmed by the expense of higher education.

“There are actually 120 students at my school who have had to leave due to financial issues,” she said. “They can’t afford food, their dorm, transportation. That’s 10% of our undergrad student body. We’re trying to follow our dreams but they seem impossible without support.”

During the program, the campaign called on activists to contact their U.S. senators and U.S. House representatives and demand that they support the Poor People’s Moral Justice Jubilee Policy Platform, released Saturday. 

The platform is a sweeping, transformational response to the needs and demands of the poor and low-income people in this country.

The campaign presented the agenda because it’s time for “bold demands and a complete restructuring of society” and not modest proposals, said Rev. Dr.  Alvin Jackson, executive director of the digital social justice assembly.

It indicates the campaign’s policy and legislative priorities around voting rights, police violence, indigenous rights, immigrant rights, education, welfare, jobs, education, housing, water, war, wealth inequality and more.

The first of three broadcasts garnered about 1.2 million views from Facebook alone. That number doesn’t include MSNBCs broadcast on YouTube; listeners who heard it on the radio; media outlets that broadcast it from their online platforms or C-SPAN.

The program was scheduled to air again at 6 p.m Eastern on Saturday and Sunday.

The program included introductions of testifiers by artists/activists including Erika Alexander, Danny Glover, Wanda Sykes, David Oyelowo, Jane Fonda and Phillip Agnew and religious figures such as Rev. Dr. Bernice King, daughter of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. and CEO of the King Center; Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry and Terri Hord Owens, the first African American woman to serve as the general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Several union leaders also participated in the program, including Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants in the CWA; Mary Kay Henry, president of the SEIU; Lee Saunders, president of AFSCME; George Gresham, president of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East; and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Other participants included Susan Taylor, the former editor-in-chief of Essence; Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change; Vanita Gupta, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division from 2014 to 2017; and David Goodman, president of the Andrew Goodman Foundation, named for his brother, who was one of three Civil Rights Movement activists murdered during Freedom Summer in 1964 by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

It also included interviews with economist Joseph Stiglitz and  economist and public intellectual Julianne Malveaux.

The Poor People’s Campaign centers its demands around the five interlocking injustices of systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy and militarism and a distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.

The campaign is sponsored by Repairers of the Breach, based in Goldsboro, North Carolina, whose president is Rev. Barber, and the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice in New York City, whose director is Rev. Theoharis.

Contact: Martha Waggoner | [email protected]  | 919-295-0802

For additional information: June2020.org / poorpeoplescampaign.org Twitter: @UniteThePoor / Instagram: @poorpeoplescampaign / Facebook: @ANewPPC