Major unions back new Poor People’s Campaign

WASHINGTON—With support from five big unions and other union-affiliated groups, a new Poor People’s Campaign, building on and expanding the drive of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years ago, launched on April 10 with a comprehensive report linking poverty, systemic racism, repressed voting rights, ecological disasters and the war economy.

 

Organizers, led by the Revs. William Barber and Liz Theoharis, said the campaign will feature weeks of peaceful civil disobedience to combat those causes, starting on Mother’s Day and leading up to a mass march and rally at the U.S. Capitol on June 23. That march will fuse all those issues together, the two said. But it won’t stop there, they told a press conference.

 

Instead, using the data from the report, The Souls of Poor Folk, 50 Years Later, and the moral principles of both the Torah (Old Testament) and the New Testament, the campaigners, led by the people themselves, will lobby for eradication of the conditions the nation’s 140 million poor suffer. That effort will last years, and will cover both Congress and in state legislatures, Barber and Theoharis said. One other demand: The right to unionize for all.

 

The Steelworkers, the Teachers (AFT), the Service Employees, the Communications Workers and the Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) back the Poor People’s campaign so far. Interfaith Worker Justice, the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, Our Walmart and US Labor Against the War are among the other 100-plus groups supporting it.

 

“The two million members of SEIU and the millions more in other unions represented here are proud to stand with the Poor People’s Campaign,” Henry told the group. “We know no one organization can accomplish these demands alone. The time is now to stand together.”

 

“Woe unto those who legislate evil,” Barber said, paraphrasing the prophets. “The true change forward must be from the bottom up, led by the people who are impacted – by them and not for them. Movements don’t start from D.C. and New York down, but from Selma and Montgomery (Alabama) up.”

 

The point, Theoharis said, is to change the nation and especially its moral compass, hijacked too often by militarism, repression and often right-wing religiosity.

 

The change the campaign seeks is in line with Rev. Barber’s “Moral Mondays” campaign, which began in his native North Carolina against voter suppression by a right-wing state government and has since spread to other states.

 

Barber took time out to dispel one myth, more than once. Contrary to popular impression, “The majority of people affected by poverty are white,” he said as one of the poor, Kelly Greer of Selma, Ala., made her way towards the podium.

 

Greer said she is marching and lobbying not just for herself, but for “mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, kids and grandkids.” The Poor People’s Campaign already has local organ-izing committees in states ranging from Alabama through New York and Washington state.

 

Though speakers took an occasional shot at politicians, including GOP President Donald Trump, they blamed the nation’s lack of a moral compass on both parties, all pols and religious leaders who don’t. “We cannot allow people to pray, p-r-a-y for presidents and politicians while they are preying p-r-e-y-i-n-g on the poor,” Barber said. “Something is wrong when four million people are dying” of poverty in the U.S., yearly.

 

Changing the moral compass, the two pastors and other speakers said, means changing away from a war economy to one that provides universal health care, state and federal living wage laws, guaranteed jobs – notably in infrastructure – and an end to ecological disasters which often fall hardest on the poor.

 

It also means “the right for all workers to form and join unions,” Barber said.

 

The report notes that 50 years ago, at the height of the Indochina War, federal military spending outran spending on programs to help the poor by a 2-to-1 ratio. Now it’s 4-to-1 and Rev. Barber said Trump’s proposed budget for next year would make it 5-to-1.

 

Speakers said changing the moral compass also means complete restructuring of a criminal justice system that demonizes the black, the brown and homeless of any race, repeal of voter repression laws and renewal and strengthening the Voting Rights Act. It also would include “a clear route to citizenship” for all immigrants, plus “renewal of the right to vote for the formerly incarcerated,” Barber said. The report estimates some 6 million now-released people have lost that right.

 

“Where I come from,” in Aberdeen, Wash., “46 percent of the city is on public assistance,” said the Rev. Sarah Monroe, who pointed out Aberdeen is three-fourths white. “And one of every 16” people in the city “are homeless.”

 

“Poverty gets criminalized,” she added, citing police picking people up for such offenses as camping in the parks, or arresting people for working in the underground economy. “They face excessive police violence and are caged at a higher rate than anyone else.”

Changing the moral compass also means barring states from enacting “pre-emption laws” taking away the rights of citizens, cities and towns to better themselves economically. And it demands taxation of the rich to pay their fair share and repeal of the 2017 tax cut for rich and corporations, with the money — $1.5 trillion over 10 years – redirected to social programs.

 

“The mass mobilization at the Capitol on June 23 will be the beginning of a multi-year state-based campaign to transform the nation’s moral soul,” Barber declared. Without it, “There is no way we can save the heart and soul of this democracy.” The report is on the websites of the Poor People’s Campaign (www.poorpeoplescampaign.org) and the Institute for Policy Studies (www.ips-dc.org), whose staffers investigated and wrote it.

Source: PAI