Poor People's Campaign

Our politics must no longer blame the poor for their poverty: Bishop Barber 

Contact: Martha Waggoner | [email protected]

Hundreds of poor and low-wealth people marched through Wall Street, chanting “if we don’t get it, shut it down” and carrying signs as the Poor People’s Campaign brought its Mobilization Tour to the heart of capitalism on Monday. 

The Moral March on Wall Street, led by the  New York Poor People’s Campaign, began at the Museum of the American Indian and moved past the New York Stock Exchange before ending at Trinity Church Wall Street for a mass meeting where impacted people and faith leaders spoke. The NYPPC invited the co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival – Bishop William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis – to speak. 

“We are here to tell the stock exchange and Wall Street to stop trading our lives, that we want living wages and health care and clean air and voting rights,” Rev. Dr. Theoharis, who lives in New York City, said during the march. “And we want them now! And if we don’t get them, we’ll shut it down.” 

Kelly Smith, a tri-chair of the NYPPC, said at the meeting that she was called to this work about four years ago, when she became overcome with worry about the struggles in her family, community, city, state and nation such as a lack of healthcare and more recently, New York City’s evictions of people from homeless camps. 

“I worry for my son. I worry that he’ll be able to find a living wage. I worry that he lives in a world where his Black skin is valued less than my white skin.” she said. “And I could worry and worry and worry and wring my hands. Or, I could stand up. I could speak up. I could fight. Rev. Barber, it has meant so much to me when you said if you knew this was your last breath, what would you do? … Well, we are going to stand up. We are going to speak out. And we are going to mobilize for June 18th in Washington, D.C.” 

Along with the NYPPC, representatives from campaigns from Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island joined the march and rally as part of a Mobilization Tour stop on the way to the Mass Poor People’s & Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls

“We’ve got to do this (June 18th) because our politics are trapped in the lies of scarcity and the lies of scarcity to keep alive  the lies of trickle-down economics and the lies of neoliberalism, which leave people out. The false narrative of Christian nationalism and racism and militarism and climate devastation,” Bishop Barber said. 

“You’ve got a mess. These kinds of politics turn us against each other, blame the poor for their poverty even though we live in the midst of abundance. And we know that poverty is not so much a personal choice as a political consequence of policies. We have the resources to meet the needs of everybody. The only thing we don’t have enough of is moral consciousness and the will to do what’s right. And that’s our job – to shift the moral narrative of this nation,” he said. 

(Photo by Steve Pavey/Poor People’s Campaign/Repairers of the Breach/Kairos Center) 

Faith leaders representing different traditions also spoke at Trinity Church Wall Street, explaining why they’re mobilizing for the June 18th assembly and march. Trinity Church Wall Street is a historic church, with its current building (the third) constructed from 1839 to 1846.  In 2020, it gave over $24 million in grants, with a focus on organizations that work with undocumented immigrants, undocumented immigrants, domestic violence survivors, homeless families, and formerly incarcerated adults and youth. The 2020 grant-giving nearly tripled its New York City grants from 2019. 

The program can be viewed here. 

Poverty is not a personal choice but a policy choice and even before COVID, these policies were killing and hurting people, with 250,000 dying from poverty each year in the US. The action called attention to the needs of the 8.6 million poor and low-income people in the state and the 140 million people nationally who were poor or low-income before COVID.  

Volney Gordon, who has been homeless for 15 years since being priced out of New York City and who now lives in Washington, Vermont, said he “became an expert in poverty on these very streets – in the shadow of obscene wealth and amidst the headquarters of institutions that, having built their wealth on the backs of our class,  have waged an all out war on those very same people. 

“The ruling class doesn’t want us to strategize across lines of division because our strength, the strength of the working class, the poor, is what powers this machine,” Gordon, a liver cancer survivor, said in prepared remarks. 

Brenda Temple, a low-wage worker who lives in public housing in New York City, said she’s part of a campaign to demand that Mayor Eric Adams stop the privatization of public housing and let residents manage the developments.  

“Privatization of public housing ends public housing,” she said in prepared remarks. “This is nothing less than an attack on the poor. “We need decent housing, affordable to  the over 140 million of us Americans who can’t afford to live in our own country. … We demand decent public housing. We demand to manage our own homes. We demand more  democracy. “

Stephanie Heslop, who helped lead the unionization effort at a Starbucks in Ithaca, said she lives paycheck to paycheck. 

“It is our labor that has made Starbucks the multi-billion dollar company it is and all we are asking for is what we deserve,” she said. “In return we have been met with threats, harassment, cuts in hours, and some workers have even been fired. The company is using the massive wealth they have made off our labor to try to prevent us from exercising our fundamental right to unionize, and I find that deeply shameful–but it also gives me hope, because in spite of all that we’re still winning. Our solidarity is stronger than their ill-gotten wealth. And if we can do it, if Amazon workers on Staten Island can do it, then other workers can too!” 


Jennifer E. Cuffee-Wilson of the Shinnecock/Montauk Nation said her community lives on Long Island, one of the richest parts of the country: 

“We are surrounded by nothing but billionaires. And one of the billionaires is (former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bloomberg had the nerve to go on national television and tell them that Shinnecock Indian nation is disastrous” and they need help. 

“Well, are they helping us know? No. but he’s got a house out there. He’s living on stolen land.”

Pamela Poniatowski, tri-chair, Rhode Island Poor People’s Campaign

“I was not aware that more than 70% of households with disabled members living below the poverty line do not receive federal housing assistance. But I now know because I was waiting for housing for three years and it seems I’m one of the lucky ones, only waiting three years for housing.

“There are still millions of people waiting for housing, just look around. We can see them in every state. It is heartbreaking and there are 140 million people who are just one emergency away from losing everything. The waiting list for housing anywhere is years long. What are we expected to do during those years?”

Josh Kaupilla of Maine, poor, gay, formerly homeless 

“I grew up with that shame-mongering by politicians, public figures, and family members. Though I wish those days were past, I know firsthand how these ideas divide families and keep poor people from recognizing their shared interest. How much longer do we have to start over, to run, to face homelessness, addiction, abusive situations; with stability, belonging and safety so often out of reach?

“The truth is their distorted moral narrative is what’s deepening the suffering in our country and making us all less secure. Division is what THEY seek, then what we need to do is come together.”

Amy Tai of Massachusetts

“Most nights I wake up with my heart racing because I cannot imagine what kind of future my 16-year-old son will have or not have because of climate devastation.  I have spent countless hours working to help friends who are on the brink of homelessness.  I cry every day because I see the toll of racism on my loved ones.  I cry every day because I am witnessing the injustice and violence committed against poor people, Black and Brown and Indigenous people, in our country is gut-wrenching. I myself have personally experienced anti-Asian violence and it is terrifying.”