Poor People's Campaign

May 25, 2021

Poor and low-wealth people said during the Poor People’s Campaign Moral Monday that they need the changes reflected in the agenda of the Third Reconstruction congressional resolution to end poverty so that they’re able to do more than barely survive in the wealthiest country in the world. 

“We have been ignored. Our labor has been exploited. We have been taken advantage of for far too long,” said Pam Garrison of the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign. 

Reps. Barbara Lee of California and Pramila Jayapal of Washington state unveiled the resolution Thursday during a news conference where the co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival — Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis — also spoke. It is scheduled to be introduced on Tuesday. 

“Tell Congress: we’re coming,” Rev. Barber said Monday. “And we’re bringing this army with us and we are organizing it in every state. This is an emergency. We read that same Constitution that they swore to uphold and in there, it says you must establish justice in order to have domestic tranquillity. And there is nothing just about 140 million poor and low-wealth people living in the wealthiest country– nothing just about us spending 54 cents of every discretionary dollar on the military and less than 15 or 16 cents on education. There is nothing just about this and it must change. This Third Reconstruction will lift us; we are not giving up.”

The resolution, “Third Reconstruction: Fully Addressing Poverty and Low Wages from the Bottom Up,” is the result of the ongoing historic effort to summon the moral and political resolve of the nation to center the needs of the 140 million people who are poor or low-wealth in order to change these conditions with moral laws and policies. 

Among other goals, the resolution calls on the country to update the poverty measurement; raise the federal minimum wage, enact comprehensive and just immigration reform and expand voting rights.

“What we are saying with this resolution is that this is our road map to what poor people in this country deserve, which is dignity, a livelihood, enough not just to survive, but to thrive and this resolution for a Third Reconstruction fueled from the bottom up is the fire that will be lit in us — in Congress for all of us to eradicate poverty,” Rep. Jayapal said. “Poverty exists because we allow it to exist.”

The resolution draws on the transformational history of the First Reconstruction following the Civil War and the Second Reconstruction of the civil rights struggles of the 20th century. It is a revival of a constitutional commitment to establish justice, provide for the general welfare, end decades of austerity, and recognize that policies that center the 140 million are also good economic policies that can heal and transform the nation. 

“We have the resources to feed everyone, to house everyone, to provide quality education for everyone,” Rev. Theoharis said. “In fact, our nation cannot afford to not fully address poverty. The costs of an inequality are just too great. And the solutions that we have are right here in the Third Reconstruction resolution. So this is about building this resolve. This Third Reconstruction resolution is an important step to summoning the kind of resolve we need to get the job done.”

Rep. Lee, who said she was on food stamps and Medicare when she was raising her children and going to college, decried that 250,000 people die each year of poverty. 

“That is unacceptable in the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world so you can’t tell me that we’re not going to get this done,” she said. “It is our moral obligation and it’s our obligation as Americans and it’s our obligation to our children. It’s our obligation to our future and to secure this planet for them and there’s no way that we’re going to let this slide.”

Callie Greer of the Alabama Poor People’s Campaign noted that both the First and Second Reconstructions were assassinated. 

“Now we are at this pivotal point in history,” she said “The iron is hot. We must strike for this new third-and-all-inclusive-poor-people-included reconstruction. We have the road map; we have the directions. The Poor People’s Campaign shows where the money is to do it. Now is the time to get on the road to D.C. and tell them to release this money.”

Comments from others: 

Rev. Terri Hord Owens, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

 “We have food pantries, we have clothing shelters. We do a lot of things as people of faith. We have to move from mercy to justice, from acts of kindness to a system that prioritizes those who have been marginalized and by prioritizing those. We have to speak up and sign onto this resolution that lays out the agenda that my brothers and sisters have so eloquently laid before us today and say enough is enough.”

Shailly Gupta Barnes, national policy director for the Poor People’s Campaign

“This is at its very core a theory of change that centers the poor, not the wealthy or the powerful, and what it says is that by centering the poor, we can actually bring in a new era of economic and moral revival.”

Valerie Jean, Michigan Poor People’s Campaign 

“We hope that every Congress person understands that these moments, these times, they are going to be judged by. They’re going to be. Whether they got water to people, clean affordable water to people. Whether they got housing to people. All of these things, this is your legacy, this is your time.”

Kenia Torres-Alcocer, California Poor People’s Campaign 

“This Third Reconstruction looks at us and looks at our humanity and looks at us as whole human beings. It doesn’t matter whether you are undocumented. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Black person, a white person. It looks at every single need. I need housing to survive. I need to go out the streets without the fear of being deported. I need clean water for my children. I need everything that will give me a better life.”

Chris Olive, Washington state Poor Peoples’ Campaign; U.S. Air Force veteran, formerly homeless

“It’s inspiring to me to see this type of resolution being put forward by our elected officials. I think it’s one of the rare times that the will of the voters is actually being reflected and what our leaders are proposing.”

Vanessa Nosie of Arizona, who is working to save the Apache sacred land of Oak Flat from a foreign copper mining company

“We know as Indigenous people it’s going to take all of us because the environment, what happens to the environment, what happens to the water is going to affect us all. What happens to my religion is going to affect you all.

Mary Jane Shanklin of Kansas Poor People’s Campaign, wife of a farmer

“Many rural farmers live in an invisible poverty in a silent desperation and the farmer suicide rate continues to climb. Poverty is a policy choice but for many rural farmers, the only choice they seem to find is suicide. How many more?”

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