Poor People's Campaign

April 2, 2021

Poor and low-income West Virginians along with state and national faith leaders called on senators to end the filibuster during a Poor People’s Campaign program that included foot-washing to symbolize the need to wash away the arcane Senate rule used to block progress.

On Maundy Thursday, the day commemorating the Last Supper and Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, West Virginians and moral leader Bishop William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, rallied in Charleston for an end to the filibuster. 

“There are families that are struggling everyday, to make ends meet, and you mean to tell me that $15 can’t be accomplished for a minimum wage? That’s not fair,” said Martec Washington of South Charleston, West Virginia. “There are people out here going to work and you mean to tell me that you can not protect their right to vote? That’s not right.”

Bishop William J. Barber II washes the feet of a woman during a Maundy Thursday service on April 1, 2021, in Charleston, West Virginia. (Photo by Chris Jackson)

The Poor People’s Campaign is calling on Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Capito to drop their support of the filibuster and allow the Senate to consider legislation such as $15/hour minimum wage and a federal law to protect voting rights. The two senators, who were invited to join the ritual of foot-washing on Thursday, did not attend. 

Bishop Barber, who founded Moral Mondays and preached the inaugural prayer sermon in January, said the ritual of foot-washing stood for the need to get rid of the filibuster. 

“It’s time to wash away the filibuster,” he said. “It’s time to wash away greed. It’s time to wash away the denial of healthcare. It’s time to wash away the denial of living wages. It’s time to wash away voter suppression. The washing should start right here in West Virginia.” 

The filibuster has been to stop anti-slavery legislation in 1800, Bishop Barber said, and to block an anti-lynching bill in 1937 that included penalties against law enforcement after two Black men in Mississippi were mutilated for hours, burned with a torch and shot. The Senate has the filibuster to block women’s right to vote, to keep the poll tax, to block the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964 and to block labor rights. 

“The filibuster is ultimately about shutting people up,” he said.  

After the remarks, Bishop Barber and Rev. Caitlin Cotter Coillberg, minister of the  Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Charleston where the program was held, washed the feet of several people. 

“The faithful and courageous thing to be doing, senators, is to protect the people’s right to vote- and right to a decent wage,” Rev. Coillberg said. “The moral thing, the brave thing, the right thing, senators, is to be the leaders West Virginia and our nation need. Senator Capito, Senator Manchin, please be with us on the side of love, of hope, of a better tomorrow for the people of West Virginia, and our children, and grandchildren, and all our nation.”

OTHER COMMENTS:

Matthew Kerner, a former addict who now works with people in recovery:

“Right now, just down the street there is a building with a gilded dome where decisions are being made about how we will fund the operations of one of the poorest states in this country. In that building legislators who refuse to wear masks or be vaccinated themselves have insisted that because of the COVID pandemic, they be allowed to work outside the view of the public while they discuss changes in tax policy that would eliminate a progressive income tax and replace those funds with some of the most regressive taxes possible. We would be left with sales taxes that are the highest in the nation and the restoration of the taxation of food, something essential for life.”

Kaylen Barker of South Charleston, West Virginia: 

 “The elite have acted to silence the poor, minority, and working people of this country since the words We the People were written. West Virginia is no stranger to this tactic. We know what it is like to be kept down by the ruling class. The struggle for freedom and equality have been fought on our land since 1863 when we broke from Virginia. West Virginians have a long history of fighting for what is right, and it is time to continue that tradition. From Mother Jones, the miners of Matewan, Bill Blizzard and the Redneck Army at Blair Mountain to our incredible educators. we always stand up. Our ancestors fought and died so that we could continue that fight and it is time to honor their sacrifice by coming together once again.”

Dani Parent, who criticized state legislators for voter suppression bills, including one that cuts the number of days for early voting, specifically eliminating the days with the most turnout for early voting.

“We are here to address inequality that has gone on too long, perpetuated by those with more than we have, at every level. The national calls for equality are strong, they are loud, and they are hopeful. But we here in West Virginia often feel othered, like the national narratives don’t apply to us, or like we’re overlooked in the larger conversation.”

Rabbi Victor Urecki, Congregation B’nai Jacob: 

“So many Americans are struggling with food insecurity. Millions are living in poverty, working two or three jobs because wages are so low. Families cannot feed their children, systemic racism is found in every sector of our society and those who speak up and want to enough are now being suppressed at the ballot box. There is darkness that is engulfing America. And those in power either do not want to see the pain of those who struggle in the dark or will not leave their homes and extend their arms to the needy. We are here today because we see the plague of darkness and we are here to push back against the callousness of indifference.”

Pam Garrison, tri-chair of the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign: 

“We have a message for the 49 and 8  (the 49 Republicans and the eight Democrats who voted against including $15/hour minimum wage in the COVID relief bill): We are still working for poverty wages. We’re still struggling trying to make ends meet. This might be one of the most important votes that y’all make — The For the People Act. They are trying to shut us up. Y’all have ignored us, but we’re still here. Now you want to shut our voices, take our democracy, so we’re here for Senator Manchin, Senator Capito, and for the Senate. We want to ask y’all, which side are y’all on. Are you on the side of a filibuster, or are you on the side of people and democracy? Help us.”


CONTACT:
Martha Waggoner: mwaggoner@breachrepairers.org  | 919-295-0802