Remind members of Congress that if they want to win, then they must fight for the 140 million poor and low-wealth people across the United States
Contact:: Martha Waggoner | [email protected]
Why has our government abandoned us? That’s what poor and low-wealth people asked members of Congress during a briefing Wednesday on issues that included poverty, immigrant and Indigenous rights, ecological devastation, the denial of health care and militarism.
“We aren’t poor because we’re lazy. We’re poor because the laws and policies in this country are stacked against us,” said Aaron Scott, co-founder of Chaplains on the Harbor in Washington state, who spoke to the needs for universal health care, good jobs, living wages and guaranteed incomes. “If that can’t be done now, make sure we can vote to get people in there who can and will make this happen.”
He was among 11 impacted people who addressed members of Congress and who are among the 140 million people who are poor or low-income living in the US, accounting for over 40 percent of the population and nearly one-third of the electorate. The briefing was co-hosted with the Institute for Policy Studies and the Economic Policy Institute,
The speakers included the co-chairs of the PPC:NCMR, Bishop William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, along with Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; Rep. Barbara Lee of California, chair of the Majority Leader Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity, and Rep. Ro Khanna of California. Other Members of Congress who attended included Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas, and Rep. Sara Jacobs of California.
Testifiers also discussed the Mass Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Moral March on Washington and to the Polls happening on Saturday, which will bring thousands of allies and people of faith and conscience to the nation’s capital as they commit to organizing a broad-based movement that can confront these interlocking injustices with a Third Reconstruction Agenda to Heal the Nation: End Poverty and Low Wages from the Bottom Up.
During the briefing, Bishop Barber warned of what could happen if the nation doesn’t gain a moral footing. “What we’re talking about is this democracy cannot sustain the tension of 140 million people living in poverty and low wealth and 52% of our children in the wealthiest nation on the face of the earth,” Bishop Barber said.
“The most moral people in this country are poor and low-wealth folk who get kicked in the teeth by systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, denial of healthcare, the war economy, the false moral narrative of religious nationality. And they still love America! And they still have some spirituality and they still believe in the possibility of change. If that ever changes, we are in a world of hurt.”
Rev. Dr. Theoharis reminded Congress that “It does not have to be this way. The solutions are known. The answers are at hand, the policies are ready to be passed. “And so, as we heard, any nation that chooses not to lift a 140 million people out of poverty and low incomes, any nation that chooses to disenfranchise voters, to withstand the greatest attack on voting rights since right after the Civil War, any nation that allows the poor to be hurt first and worst by ecological devastation and the denial of healthcare, any nation that purports itself in the name of national security to declare war is a issuing a declaration of war on the poor.”
The testifiers spoke directly to members of Congress in emotional and powerful statements of personal struggle. They did not hold back either when it came to reminding Congress that poor and low-wage workers need to see them fight.
“If a bunch of mostly young adults with little to no organizing experience can put enough pressure on a multi-billion dollar company to raise the minimum wage in less than a year, we absolutely expect our government to be able to do so too.” said Morgan Leavy, a barista at the first unionized Starbucks in Texas.
Kenya Slaughter, who is organizing a union at a Dollar General in Louisiana, said she knows the store’s revenues increased during the pandemic because she closed the store many nights. But the workers didn’t get paid more.
“In fact, we often worked alone, without any PPE, while more than 300 customers would come in, looking for whatever it was they needed,” she said. “At one point, we were going to get a $300 one-time bonus, but that didn’t begin to compensate me for all the risks we were taking. Many of our stores have been robbed at gunpoint, during the night shift, with just one or two workers there.
“We can’t get done what they are asking of us in the tiny amount of hours they think it takes. We can’t live off of poverty wages. And we can’t live in constant threat to our lives.”
Representatives Jayapal and Lee reminded those testifying that their stories and their demands are not falling on deaf ears.
The Third Reconstruction is an “agenda to heal the nation, end poverty and low wages, from the bottom up, from the people up, which is how this country should work,” Rep. Lee said.
Rep. Jayapal affirmed to the impacted people that “your presence here is the presence of justice. Your presence here is the presence of story. Your presence here is the grounding of what we are fighting for in the real experiences of poor people across the country.”
Said Rep. Khanna: “The thing that’s going to really make the difference is when people start feeling the heat at the polls. A lot of this stuff that we can barely get through we’re going to get through with votes to spare because of the votes that are generated through the Poor People’s Campaign.”
Dontae Sharpe of North Carolina, who received a pardon of innocence, on voting rights of incarcerated people:
“We don’t believe you should ever have your right to vote taken away. The rights restoration for anyone in the community should be the federal standard immediately. Because it’s important. It’s an emergency. If you are living in a community, your kids are going to school. You’re paying taxes. You should be able to have a say in laws that will govern your life. You should be able to vote for judges, district attorneys, school boards and members of Congress.”
Guadelupe de la Cruz of Florida on immigration and the child tax credit:
“When immigrants come to my state, they are fleeing violence, war, and poverty. But what do they find when they arrive in the richest democracy in the world? They are turned away or told they are criminals and don’t deserve any rights. They are humiliated, shackled with ankle monitoring bracelets and left to manage the immigration system on their own.
“This is why I’m here in Washington. The U.S. Congress must step up and protect people in Florida and other states where anti-immigrant forces have captured our democratic system.”
Catherine Jozwick of West Virginia on pollution:
“The Rockwool company was recruited and the factory was approved in a process rife with improprieties. The most concerning aspect of the project is the location of the factory less than 0.5 miles from the poorest, lowest performing elementary school in the county and within 2 miles of four other schools, comprising 30% of county students.
“This isn’t unique to West Virginia. It happens in communities across America every day, and we need your help when our officials’ interests collide with the protection of affected communities. And, remember, pollution of air and water do not obey city or state boundaries – our problem IS your problem.”
Vanessa Nosie on Apache Stronghold struggle in Oak Flat, Arizona:
“I am a mother of four girls and my job as an Indigenous person is to pass on the religion, the spirituality to my daughters so that they can pass it on to future generations. My youngest daughter is in the back of the hall, but I am in a different fight for her. If this foreign mining company can come in and destroy our holy site, she will no longer know what it is to be Apache. We as Indigenous people are here to tell you: tell the first chapter of how America was founded and the deceit behind it! I stand here representing thousands and thousands of people, and my ancestors, who have given me the blessed gift to fight.”
Kyle Bibby, a military veteran from New Jersey on militarism and the war economy:
“Every dollar that we spend destroying communities overseas is a dollar not spent on universal healthcare, affordable housing, or meaningful social services and public education. Every youth sent overseas for war is a life at risk for a sacrifice that we can not justify. Every veteran returning who is saddled with trauma is a high toll to pay for wars that never had a clear goal — and many are returning to underfunded and forgotten communities.”
Fernando Garcia of Texas on the conditions at the Southern border:
“America is supposed to be a nation of immigrants. The borders of our country, with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, used to represent the promised land and a better future. Nowadays our borders, especially our southern border, represent quite the opposite: for immigrants, refugees and communities, it is the promise of poverty, criminalization, and militarization.”
Jessica Boyles of Pennsylvania on being a home health care worker:
“..I watched co-workers burn themselves out, trying to meet these unfulfilled hours [of care], believing the agency or county would fix things soon. I lived with guilt..every time I chose to take care of myself rather than fill in extra hours for [a patient-client]. How do people expect workers to show up day in and day out under those levels of demoralization, when we can’t even get our own healthcare?”
Rev. Carolyn Foster of Alabama on voting rights and health care:
“There are great moral and economic costs of not providing for the health and well-being of the people in Alabama and across the country. A recent study shows that universal health care could have saved over 330,000 lives in the pandemic. We are so quick to run to war, defend the rights of the powerful, but where is the urgency to address the lack of health care, decent and adequate incomes, and democracy?”