Opinion/Advocacy: The Renewed Poor People’s Campaign

Bernadette Geller, for the Shuttle

When I think of the communities that make up Weavers Way, I think of people who, while upset with our current national administration, and the many ways our government is failing on the world stage, are mostly happy with the way our lives are playing out.

We, by and large, are the kind of folk we are all content to be in each other’s company — thoughtful, concerned about the environment and tender care of Earth, with discipline around recycling, eating healthful food, exercising, marching when the cause is important, voting when we know we have worked to lift up good candidates, and having the financial means to do these things, with money and time for relaxing and enjoying our versions of the good life, and preparing for aging (in place, if possible).

And there are those folks who, in the words from a prayer-service program in Hope House Journal, NOLA: “We are people who don’t seem to count for much in this world — whether we are just starting out in life’s journey, nearing its end or just not worth much in the world’s cost-benefit analysis. But we are God’s children. We are all brothers and sisters. We want respect. We want to live full and meaningful lives. We want our unique gifts to be recognized and used to create a more just, peaceful and verdant world.”

Fifty years ago, after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Poor People’s Campaign erected Resurrection City on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Subsequently, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law, as was the Civil Rights Act. Today, there are fewer voting rights; since 2010, 23 states have passed voter-suppression laws, including racialized gerrymandering and redistricting as well as measures to reduce early voting days, purge voter rolls and impose stricter voter-ID requirements.

One cannot view this as accidental, but rather an attack on the poor and disenfranchised in our country. This is just one area the new Poor People’s Campaign (www.poorpeoplescampaign.org) is addressing. In preparation for the Poor People’s March Saturday, June 23, protests were held in 37 state capitols on six previous Mondays (actually, one was held on Tuesday because of Memorial Day), each lifting up another aspect of the moral decay that needs to be corrected to change the moral narrative in our country.

Among the themes:

  • The right to health: Ecology, justice and health, extreme water extraction, climate change and health care.
  • Everybody’s got a right to live: A living wage, guaranteed income, housing and social services.
  • Somebody is hurting our people: Women, youth, disabled people, children in poverty and the right to education.
  • Veterans: Our war economy and militarism.

All of these issues were not only lifted up in loud protests but also in mass arrests because thousands took part in acts of “nonviolent moral fusion direct action,” which was essentially civil disobedience, though rarely reported in mass media.

Hopefully the June 23 Poor People’s March will not be the end, but a continuation of what has been building over several years — building a broad and deep national moral movement rooted in the leadership of poor people and reflecting the great moral teachings — to unite our country from the bottom up, drawing on the unfinished work of the 1968 campaign, tragically cut short both by King’s death and by the subversion of his coalition that sustained it.

May those of us who believe in the moral right do our part to support the National Call for Moral Revival, co-organized by Repairers of the Breach (www.breachrepairers.org), a social-justice organization founded by the Rev. William Barber, and the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice (kairoscenter.org) at Union Theological Seminary, headed by Rev. Liz Theoharis.

Bernadette Geller is a longtime Weavers Way member. Contact her at bclgeller@comcast.net.