Reviews | March of the Poor: Organizing for Peace, Justice and Equality

After her niece, a low-income mother of three, was murdered several years ago, Wel’ega Ma’Shak of Galt, California, joined Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) to feel less alone in his grief. She also joined the state chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC), and on Saturday, June 18, she stood with tens of thousands of people in Washington, D.C. – representing MMIW – to condemn government policies that elevate militarism above human needs and to denounce religious fanaticism and legislation that allows racism, sexism, classism and homophobia to persist.

“The military budget is immoral,” PPC co-chair Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II told the cheering crowd. “That’s why we need a third Reconstruction.”

The day was a mix of the personal and the political.

The Reverend Jennifer Barrett, Disciples of Christ pastor of Kansas City, Kansas, was first drawn to the Assembly of the poor masses and low-wage workers and the moral march in Washington and to the polls due to growing obstacles to vote in the United States. .

“Making it harder to vote disgusts me,” she told The Progressive. “We must do better and protect everyone’s right to choose their representatives. We can’t be silent any longer.”

Barrett, who attended the march with her 22-year-old daughter, then adds, “I’m also here for a longtime friend who is a single mother of two. She’s a full-time teacher in Blue Valley, Kansas. , and has to work a second job to make ends meet. Despite this, every month there is a $500 shortfall in his finances. This is simply not true.

Valora Starr, a lay pastor from Bethel Lutheran Church in Chicago, stands near the Barretts and overhears our conversation. As a child in 1968, she says, she didn’t understand the importance of the first poor people’s campaign led by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. “Now I know,” she says. “Yes, the bow can bend to justice, but it doesn’t bend fast enough. I’m here with a group of black kids from my church, and I want them to feel what it means to stand up and to organize for peace, justice, and equality.”

Like many at Saturday’s march, Starr believes spiritual upliftment is inseparable from activism and stresses that prayer and practice are two sides of the same coin. “Praying with our feet,” an idea popularized by Frederick Douglass, is important, she says, because change will not come without pressure.

The visibly religious crowd held up banners and signs promoting the issues that brought them to the nation’s capital. Placards read “Fight poverty, not the poor” and “Fund people, not war”; others proclaimed “There is enough for everyone”, “Todo el Mundo Necesita el Derecho a Vivir” or “All the peoples of the world need the right to live” and “Poverty is violence”.

And, while many temples, mosques, churches and synagogues brought large contingents to the assembly, secular groups including Black Voters Matter, the Border Network for Human Rights, Code Pink, the Communist Party, Justicia Migrante, l The National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, the Revolutionary Communist Party, the Sunrise Movement, Veterans for Peace and several unions were also present.

In addition to changing our national priorities, many participants also expressed concern about US foreign policy. “Human rights are not just about people in the United States,” Melissa Nuwaysir of the Washington, DC, metropolitan area chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace told The Progressive. “We must ensure that militarism and American support for authoritarian and oppressive governments, including Israel, are not sidelined.”

Indeed, cutting the grotesquely bloated US military budget has long been a goal of the CPP. As one of their pre-printed signs reminded rally goers, since 9/11 the United States has spent over $20 trillion on war.

“The military budget is immoral,” PPC co-chair Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II told the cheering crowd. “That’s why we need a third Reconstruction.”

This, Barber explained, will build on work done after the Civil War (the First Reconstruction) and during the contemporary Civil Rights Movement led by Reverend King (the Second Reconstruction).

“We are a fusion coalition,” he said, “and we will continue our work until the sick are cured, until affordable housing is provided, until the land is and water are protected, and until saving the world is more important than blowing it up. . . . . This promise is non-negotiable. We will no longer remain silent or invisible.

The PPC’s strategy is to build from the bottom up, co-chair Reverend Liz Theoharis told the assembly. “The low-wage workers, the disenfranchised and the excluded are a social force,” she said. “When we cry out for justice, when we cry out for power, when we take bold action,” we show those who lead what is possible.

Moreover, Theorharis added, those who are most directly affected by racism, sexism, homophobia and poverty can reinforce each other.

Indeed, tears flowed as speakers shared stories of survivors of a series of indignities: anti-LGBTQIA+ discrimination, disenfranchisement, incarceration, family separation, homelessness and hunger, opioid addiction, overcrowded schools. and inadequate, environmental calamities and loss of loved ones suicide, gun violence and treatable illnesses due to gaps in insurance coverage.

But the day offered much more than anger, sadness and despair: performances by a PPC choir had the crowd clapping, swaying and raising their voices in joyous song. All in all, it was an exhilarating and inspiring day.

“Fifty-four years ago my father, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., launched the first campaign of the poor to revolutionize the country,” Reverend Bernice King told the crowd. “Decades later, ridding the nation of the evil and violence of poverty remains a moral imperative.”

The PPC estimates that there are 140 million poor and low-income people in the United States, with just over half of all children living at or near the federal poverty line of $18,310 for a household. for two people and $27,750 for a four-person unit.

“Any nation that ignores nearly half of its citizens is in a moral, economic and political crisis,” Barber told the assembly.

“We have the ability to win, but it will take a growing movement of poor and working people to act,” Jack Arnow, a retired teacher from Brooklyn, New York, told The Progressive.

He adds: “Today’s protest was wonderful, but now we need to use our power to vote, resist and do the hard work of organizing a much bigger group of supporters.”

For more information or to join the Poor People’s Campaign, text MORAL to 38542 or search online for #PoorPeoplesCampaign and #MoralAssembly2022.

About Michael C. Lovelace

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