Poor People's Campaign

Contact: Martha Waggoner | [email protected] 

Poor and low-wealth people from Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi declared Monday that they are the resurrection of the Poor People’s Campaign and that they will finish the work of that movement as a united force to lift from the bottom. 

They spoke at the final Mobilization Tour march and rally of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival as the campaign moves to its  Mass Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls on June 18th. 

Murriel Wiley, a 31-year-old college graduate from rural southwest Arkansas, spoke about the struggle and difficulties of voting in rural America and of working as a tipped worker. She described only making $2.13 an hour and “praying people will tip 20%.” 

“As a part-time waitress working for $2.13 an hour, relying on the kindness of strangers for tips, you can guess that benefits aren’t included for people like me. But that doesn’t mean all service industry members deserve to have to go without seeing a doctor simply because they can’t afford it,” she said. “Rural voters matter. Waitresses and dishwashers and bussers matter – in the polls, at doctors offices and in every part of the United States.”

She’s mobilizing for June 18th because “we need policy changes to include the protection and value of ALL our people, not just some and ALL our voices deserve to be heard.”

The Mid-South Mobilization Committee, made up of people from Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi, led the march and rally, which can be viewed here. The march ended at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. 

Emilee Johnson of the Mississippi Poor People’s Campaign said she’s mobilizing for June 18th because “exploitation doesn’t have a color or a party.  I’m here as a survivor of sex trafficking, formerly incarcerated, and I’m a low-wage worker.”

She said she’s a single mother of four working two jobs, seven days a week for the last four years and barely making ends meet. 

“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,” she said. “I stand with the Poor People’s Campaign because we are in desperate need of this Third Reconstruction. We must do more. Forward together!”

Also speaking at the program were the national co-chairs of the PPC:NCMR, Bishop William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. 

“Now, this is not about nostalgia. It’s not about just remembering the path,” Bishop Barber said. “Because for 50 years, we’ve been talking about what he (MLK) did, but nobody picked it up. It’s been 54 years since the sanitation workers month. And right here in Memphis, they still don’t have full living wages and full union rights!

“Even in a predominantly Black city, because in this moment, you don’t get a pass because you’re Black. You get a pass if you fight and stand up for poor and low-wealth people. Right here in this city, you raise the wages of policemen and firemen, and didn’t raise the wages of poor folk and sanitation workers. .. When people in this city stop a pipeline company that would damage a black community and after you stop it, there are attempts by that company to find other ways to still bring toxic waste and to get the legislature to write laws that would block communities from blocking the pipeline, then we don’t need nostalgia.”

Rev. Dr. Theoharis said that this nation “must be serious about the suffering that is going on here. All of these years after Dr. King was killed: still no living wages, still attacks on the homeless, still the lack of healthcare, still the mass incarceration of our people, the poisoning of our water, and so close to the Mississippi Delta, where there’s still the deepest poverty in this, the richest country ever to exist.

“Let’s recognize the cries of pain and the cries of power, and let’s then commit to not stopping even an inch, even one person, even one drop of water, short of victory.”

Two women who were with the Poor People’s Campaign begun by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the National Welfare Rights Organization and faith leaders also spoke. 

“Join me by cars, by buses, by airplanes. I heard that some are going to be walking. Hallelujah! said Mother Georgia King, 82, who became involved with the Poor People’s Campaign when she was in her 20s and who once walked 255 miles from Roanoke, Virginia, to the nation’s capital to fight for aid for homeless people.  “I thank God I’ll be able to join it with you.” 

.Also speaking was Carrie Louise Pinson, 72, another stalwart of the PPC. . 

“Do you know Dr. King was even thinking about you when he was dating Coretta?” she asked.  “Do you know what he said? ‘Let us continue to hope, work and pray that in the future, we will live to see a warless world, a better distribution of wealth, and a brotherhood that transcends race or color. This is the gospel I will preach to the world. … And that’s why you need to be in Washington, D.C., say on June the 18th, because he would have done it for you. And he would be proud.”

There were 140 million people nationally who were poor or low-income before COVID in this nation/ 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. 

But poor and low-income people have power, including at the ballot box. Our study tells us that poor and low-income people hold power at the ballot box when they vote. In the 2020 presidential election, poor and low-income people made up 39% of voters in Tennessee. In Arkansas the figure was 47%. A second round of analysis showed they accounted for 43% of voters in Mississippi. 

Justin J. Pearson, founder of Memphis Community Against the Pipeline, which successfully fought the Byhalia pipeline only to have legislators try to pass laws that would allow it to be built, noted the hypocrisy of what this country’s budget supports: “We got a big fight that’s ahead of us, whether you’re in Memphis or Mississippi, these interlocking, justices of systemic racism and systemic poverty, ecological devastation, the denial of healthcare, the false moral narrative of religious nationalism and militarism. We pay for bombs, but we can’t give a child tax credit.”

Previous tour stops were in Cleveland; Madison, Wisconsin; Raleigh, North Carolina; New York City, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.