Poor People's Campaign

Senator has ‘disdain for poor folk,’ Bishop Barber says

Contact:Martha Waggoner | [email protected]

The Poor People’s Campaign called out Sen. Joe Manchin as “an enemy of the people” for making money by polluting West Virginia residents as the campaign finished its five-day March Against Manchin with a rally outside his Eastern Panhandle office. 

Later, the PPC joined the Coal Baron’s Blockade outside a coal plant in Grant Town, which also enriches Sen. Manchin’s pockets. 

Bishop William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, ticked off the damning statistics about West Virginia: 133,000 uninsured people; 49% of census tracts unable to afford water or at risk of being unable to afford water; and 70,000 tons of nitric oxide emitted in the state annually – eighth highest in the country – that are the leading cause of respiratory problems. 

“Any senator from this state that is more interested in pollution than providing clean air for the people is an enemy of the people,” Bishop Barber said at a rally Saturday outside Sen. Manchin’s office in Martinsburg. 

The West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign led the 23-mile march, which began Tuesday in Harpers Ferry. It included a rally Wednesday outside the Rockwool insulation plant in Ranson, which residents have fought for four years even after it was built last year. 

The PPC:NCMR, led by Bishop Barber and co-chair Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, joined the march with the WVPPC, which is another step on the way to the June 18th Mass Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls. 

The videos from the march and the blockade can be viewed on the Poor People’s Campaign Facebook page. 

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

In his remarks about pollution, Bishop Barber was referring to the coal plant where Sen. Manchin makes $500,000 per year from Enersystems, a company that his son runs, and that delivers coal waste to the Grant Town Power Plant. Sen. Manchin, who has blocked federal climate change legislation, kept the plant in business as governor by helping raise rates on residents. 

He also was referring to the Rockwool insulation plant which is directly across from an elementary school and is releasing toxic chemicals into the air, in contradiction of recommendations from the World Health Organization. It recommends 2 miles between a school building and chemical plants.

In the one year since the plant opened, children have experienced exacerbated asthma symptoms and have chemicals in their bodies. 

When the plant was announced in 2018, Sen. Manchin asked  the EPA to investigate the concerns of constituents, which at the time he professed to share. However, months later he attended the opening of the plant, saying he was “excited to see the investment in West Virginia.”

At the blockade in Grant Town where about 10 people were arrested, Bishop Barber invited the protesters and others to the June 18th march and assembly.

“What they want is us to fight in silos,” he said. “They want environmentalists over here, voting rights over here, living wage over here, and labor over here. That day is over! We have decided to come together and the more we come together the greater we win.

“Poor people make up 33% of their electorate now. And the only thing we have to do is bring all of our forces together, stop listening to political pundits and start listening to the power of the people.”

Stewart Acuff of the WVPPC and a retired national organizer with the AFL-CIO, said at the Martinsburg rally that  it’s time to mobilize for June 18th “for folks like us: low-wage working folks … poor people. seniors, elders, disabled, everybody who feels marginalized, everybody with a good heart who doesn’t feel marginalized. It’s our time, June 18th.”

The WVPPC, the PPC:NCMR and partner organizations are demanding that Manchin move from policy cruelty to compassion and from policy meanness to mercy to help not just the 40% of West Virginians who are poor or low-income – 710,000 people – but the 140 million nationally who are since his votes hurt not just his constituents but people across the country. 

“You’ve got 50% of the workforce in this state that is low wage, “ Bishop Barber said. “Any senator from this state that doesn’t fight for better wages is not a friend of the people. There are 326,000 people in this state on food stamps. Now, normally when people talk about food stamps, they talk about it in terms of color. But most of the folk here on food stamps are not Black and brown. As a Senator from a state like West Virginia, almost every vote he takes he checks off with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Almost every position he takes has something to do with his personal business interests. It’s almost as though he has a disdain for poor folk.”

“I’m trying to point out something because it needs to be clear that when you are mean – it really doesn’t care what color folk are – they’ll hurt you. And he’s mean. He’s a coward. He doesn’t tell the truth,” Bishop Barber said. 

Rev. Gusti Linnea Newquist, moderator of Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, asked that the marchers “take a moment for us to envision a Sen. Manchin who has done what we have asked him to do – to repent. Envision the Sen. Manchin who has seen the hearts of the people he serves; who has seen the 100,000-plus people who are uninsured in West Virginia,’ who has seen the people who are kept from the voting booth; who has seen the devastation, including in my own backyard, from Rockwool and from the expansion of gas pipelines in places where they don’t belong, which is nowhere in this day and age. 

“And I wanted to envision a Sen. Manchin whose heart truly has been turned. And then I want us to work for that heart to be turned. So hold that image.”

On Sunday, Bishop Barber and Rev. Dr. Theoharis will lead a Palm Sunday service across the street from the Grant Town Coal Waste Power Plant.