Poor People's Campaign

Contact: Martha Waggoner, [email protected]

CHARLESTON, West Virginia  — On the 100th anniversary of the uprising of the Battle of Blair Mountain, the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival and its partners demanded that Sen. Joe Manchin stand up for what’s best for his state and country. 

At the invitation of the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign, the national organization held a COVID-safe Mass Moral Motorcade on Manchin on Thursday. The motorcade began in Madison, West Virginia, and went to Charleston, led by a hearse and casket that symbolized Manchin’s burying of bills to end the filibuster; restore the full 1965 Voting Rights Act; pass the full For the People Act and enact a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour. 

A diverse group of speakers representing all people— workers, veterans, immigrants, faith leaders, and others— voiced the dire concerns of West Virginians and those standing with them across the country for living wages, ending the filibuster and voting rights.

Photo credit: Steve Pavey, Kairos Center

Martec Washington, a member of the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign, said to Sen. Manchin: “You are encouraging poverty. You are the reason why West Virginia is on the lowest of the low on the totem pole… You are the reason why people are dying. People are struggling and people are people choosing to end their lives every single day because they are struggling.” 

Photo credit: Steve Pavey, Kairos Center

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, told Sen. Manchin to be honest with the people who voted for him. 

“Tell the people of West Virginia that you were lying when you ran.  Tell them that you don’t care.  Tell them that you don’t really care about the poor.  Be a man,” Rev. Barber said.  “Tell them that you don’t care about voting rights.  Be a man if that is who you are.  Tell the people that you care more about your greedy friends who visit your household in D.C.  

“But you’ve got one other option.  Be a man and repent.  Have the courage to repent.  Say you were wrong.  We’ll forgive you if you tell us you got caught up for a moment.  The money got to you.  You sniffed some Koch.  You forgot who you were.  You forgot who your momma was.  You forgot who your people were.  Now you came back to your senses.  Be a man and repent. “

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, spoke to the importance of this historic moment saying, “It’s the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Blair Mountain; this year is the 151st anniversary of the passage of the 15th amendment; and it’s the 101st anniversary of the 19th amendment. And yet, in 2021, our democracy is in peril. Economic justice is being denied.” 

Rev. William Lipscombe, a tri-state chair of the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign, railed against Sen. Manchin’s continued work with Republicans saying, “He hails himself on the record of reaching across the aisle. But how about reaching across the state of West Virginia? To those who have put you in office. How about raising us up, restoring us?.” 

Fellow West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign tri-chair Pam Garrison followed up with a direct question to Sen.  Manchin saying, “Are you my senator that I voted for or not?  Which side are you on? Are you on the side of West Virginia and mountaineers that are always here or are you on the side of the Chamber of Commerce and the side of the corporations and oppressors and abusers? 

Grammy-award winning country artist Willie Nelson joined the event via Zoom sharing solidarity with the campaign and voting rights with the statement, “The biggest gun we have is the ballot box… We need to vote.”

Photo credit: Steve Pavey, Kairos Center

Statements from other speakers: 

Jean Evansmore: tri-chair of the West Virginia PPC:

“When you work three jobs just to feed your family and have a place to live, that is poverty.  You didn’t cause it, the system caused it.”

Molly Linehan Belcher, teacher and member of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia: 

“In 1963 the U.S. Catholic bishop stated definitively, and I quote ‘no Catholic with a good Christian conscience can fail to recognize the rights of all citizens to vote.’  Senator Manchin is a Catholic. Two years ago in an interfaith religious meeting with you, Pope Francis said everyone has a fundamental role to play in a single great creative project — to write a new page of history.  A page full of hope, peace and reconciliation.  I look forward to the day when we can be sure that everyone means everyone. “

June Spence, veteran and organizer Common Defense:

One hundred years ago in these hills, our ancestors fought for the right of labo, of a  dignified work area and get paid an actual living wage and not work under common script.  We are here demanding a livable wage again. Fifteen dollars is the bare minimum to survive in this country..   I have lived in poverty.  …  We need to remember the legacy of those brave miners that fought, literally fought against 27,000 federal troops.”

Matt Kerner, MoveOn: 

“Sen.  Manchin has repeatedly said that he doesn’t want to infringe on the filibuster so that he can preserve the dignity of the Senate.  I’m not sure if you are aware , senator, but about half of the people in this state live in poverty.  That means there are hundreds of thousands of children that are going to be going to bed hungry tonight because they are food insecure.  Thousands of homeless children in West Virginia.  … Every one of those children is going to go to bed hungry tonight is more important than  the appearance of the Senate. Every kid that goes to school Monday morning not knowing where he is going to go to bed that night is more important than the dignity of the Senate.”

Dean Anthony, Black Voters Matter: 

“If you (Sen. Manchin) have any decency in yourself, you will end the filibuster right now. Voting rights and racism is not something that we negotiate across this country or any community.  Right now it is your time to do right by the people. Do what is right by the community. Do what is right by everyone that got you in the place that you are.

Richard Ojeda:

“(It) is your job to elevate people above the poverty line.  We’re asking you and begging you and getting nothing in return… These people can’t put food on the table for the children.  We’re asking you and we’re asking you now.  We’re hoping that you are going to do the right thing.”  

Rev. Darick Biondi:

“That $15 an hour that might be unbelievable for a West Virginians that might be on for 10.  You are worth it.  You deserve a raise.  If you think that 15 is not fair because you make 16, you deserve a raise too. You all deserve a raise.” 

Rev. Caitlin Cotter Coillberg:

Sen. Manchin and senators and elected officials:  I hope you are with us on the side of love, justice, and a better tomorrow for the people of West Virginia and all our nation. Together we can make sure that everyone has access to voting and that everyone’s vote counts. That everyone is paid a fair wage for their labor. This is not about fighting each other. This is about fighting for each other. This is a fight for everybody.”