Alabama minister asks: ‘Why is meeting the basic human needs of all persons somehow too much to ask?’
Contact: Martha Waggoner | [email protected]
Alabama the Beautiful isn’t so beautiful to the 2.1 million residents who are poor or low-wealth, speakers said during the first Mobilization Tour stop of the Poor People’s Campaign that also covered three other Southern states.
The first stop of The Mass Poor People’s & Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls Mobilization Tour was held Monday night with speakers from Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi who are directly impacted by the policy violence of the U.S. Congress.
Faith leaders and artists also joined the program, which can be watched here.
In “Alabama the Beautiful,” state legislators refused to expand Medicaid, even though seven of 10 residents support it, said Rev. Carolyn Foster, tri-chair of the Alabama Poor People’s Campaign.
She repeated the state slogan as she listed several other statistics, including that
Alabama is one of just three states that still taxes groceries, which puts a strain on already tight budgets of poor and low-income families.
“That is why we are mobilizing and organizing towards the Mass Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls on June 18th,” Rev. Foster said. “We are standing together to fight against systemic poverty and systemic racism and to demand justice and dignity for every Alabamian.”
With the assembly, “we’re not just going to curse the darkness,” said Bishop William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. “We’re going to put an agenda forward. And it’s not about begging, America. It’s about helping America understand that if you want to be, if you want to exist, this is no longer about can a party be … can America be? Can she be what she has said on paper? That’s the question. … This is the movement that is saying to America, save yourself from this untoward reality. This does not have to be.”
One of the youngest people who spoke also provided a bit of history.
Elliott Smith, co-director of student and youth engagement for Repairers of the Breach, and the PPC:NCMR, called on his legacy as the great-great-great grand-nephew of Robert Smalls and the great grand-nephew of Amelia Boynton, who helped advance the First Reconstruction of the late 19th century and the Second Reconstruction of the mid-20th century.
“With the recent legislative setbacks and witnessing the extreme retrogression and obstructionism of Manchin, Sinema and 50 GOP Senators – I stand here today to say that we have no time to ease the gas pedal or relent,” Smith said.
Amelia and Sam Boynton “were registering voters and organizing in Selma Alabama for over four decades in the midst of racial intimidation and violence,” he said. “And each time they were met with not only violence but legislative defeats – they didn’t give up, they didn’t compromise and they didn’t sit out. They didn’t wait until the next election cycle to pick up the work – they continued to mobilize, organize, register, and educate until the consciousness of this nation was shaken.”
Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the PPC:NCMR, said that for years, the people in the movement “have been sounding the alarm on the emergencies of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism, and the false narrative of religious nationalism. We have been offering solutions, pushing forward our agenda, taking direct action together.
“And on this evening, on this day of love, we are gathered:
- to demonstrate the power of poor and impacted people banding together and demanding that this country change for the better.
- to call for a radical redistribution of political and economic power, a revolution of moral values.
- to build the power to enact all our demands.
- And to rise together and mobilize, organize, register, educate, empower and engage people to turn out and turn up for June 18th for the Mass Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls.”
All the states joining the Monday program suffer from high poverty, voter suppression, denial of healthcare and the lack of living minimum wage:
|State||PLI- Raw numbers||PLI – %||Black||Latinx||White|
|Alabama||2,169,848||45%||59% or 762,000||64% or 141,000||37% or 1.1 million|
|Georgia||4,684,520||45%||58% or 26 million||70% or 38 million||35% or 66 million|
|Florida||9,848,449||47%||66% or 2 million||63% or 3.3 million||39% or 4.3 million|
|Mississippi||1,380,188||48%||65% or 708,000||66% or 54,000||39% or 649,000|
But poor and low-income people in these states also voted in high percentages in the 2020 presidential election: Alabama, 44%; Florida, 45%; and Georgia, 37%. Figures were not available for Mississippi at the time of the study in May 2021.
Because of COVID, this stop and the next one, scheduled Feb. 28 for Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Kansas and Arkansas are virtual. Other in-person stops on the tour are: Madison, Wisconsin, and New York City in March; Raleigh, North Carolina, Cleveland and Philadelphia in April and Los Angeles, Memphis and the Delta of Mississippi in May.
Bishop Teresa E. Jefferson-Snorton, chair of the governing board of the National Council of Churches and presiding bishop, Fifth Episcopal District, CME Church, noted that while the voices of poor and low-wealth people are being lifted, “we see still little action to alleviate the pain and distress and suffering of so many in a country of plenty. Yes, we must do more, we must lift our voices, we must demand to be heard, we must make sure that the least of these are taken care of.”
The executive director of the June 18th assembly, Rev. Dr. Alvin O’Neal Jackson, said it’s time for the country to recognize both the suffering and the power of its 140 million poor and low-wealth people.
“We are on our way in the name of love, justice and truth as a moral movement to make the nation: See us, faces and realities. Hear us, our pain and agenda. And feel us: our moral authority and votes,” he said.
Like Alabama, Florida has not expanded Medicaid. Sarah Brummet of the Florida PPC said that’s why she and her husband don’t have health insurance. Neither has had a medical check-up in seven years. But they feel lucky because they have a home and family who can help them at times.
“Others throughout Florida and the broader South are not so lucky,” she said. “Many struggle even more than we do. … This system teaches us to blame ourselves, to turn against each other, that our poverty is an individual choice- a moral failing. But this system is wrong.”
The Rev. Julie Conrady, settled minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham asked: “Why is meeting the basic human needs of all persons somehow too much to ask?”
“We are going to DC to call for accountability from our leaders – to say wealth inequality exists, and it hurts all of us. We want accountability for the ever increasing wage gap and a guaranteed livable wage. When we voted for these folks, we did so because they promised to work on this discrepancy and to hold the wealthy accountable.
“Join us in Washington, D.C.. on June 18th. Let us make our voices heard.”
COMMENTS FROM OTHER SPEAKERS:
Rabbi Mark Peilen of Gadsden, Alabama said Jewish tradition “addresses the issue of how society can be maintained without descending into complete chaos. It insists that the ‘social contract’ cannot exist without justice, truth and peace.This is a clarion call for communities to conduct their affairs with social justice.”
Emilee Johnson of the Mississippi PPC saidshe wanted to emphasize that “that exploitation doesn’t have a color or a party. I’m here as a survivor of sex trafficking, formerly incarcerated, living in long-term recovery from drug addiction and I’m a low-wage worker. … I have been faced with many challenges in my life due to a broken system in the state of Mississippi that has a long history of punishing the poor while rewarding the corrupt wealthy class. I stand with the Poor People’s Campaign because We are in desperate need of this Third Reconstruction.
Kareemah Hanifa of the Georgia PPC spoke out about the importance of returning the right to vote to people who have served time behind bars: “The poorest people in this country are formerly incarcerated, and they literally have no representation. Because you cannot vote, you do not have a voice.”
Frank Barragan of Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice said he was tired of hearing promises about Build Back Better: “I hear these words, BBB, they have a pot of money that is going to help, or they claim that is going to help everybody we spoke about climate control, infrastructure, daycare, a lot of other different things, that they are not moving anywhere. All they are doing is trying to tell us what we want to hear, or they believe we want to hear, we’re tired of that.
Rev. Pamela Andrews with Power Up People and the Florida PPC:
“At the age of 13, I became a housekeeper making $3.25 an hour. Forty years later, we are at a minimum wage of $8.67 an hour. You tell me, 40 years later, that people don’t deserve more than $5 and some change of an increase. We will not be quiet. We are on our way, June 18th, to Washington. We are there to put an impact on policy. Policy affects everyone from the urban to the rural.”