Poor People’s Campaign Holds Actions Nationwide Aimed at Ending Poverty
Photo by Gay Johnson

The Poor People’s Campaign held marches and other peaceful actions in more than two dozen states and Washington, D.C. on Monday, demanding that Congress take decisive moral action to help eradicate poverty.

Across the country, multiracial, intergenerational participants joined The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival on June 7. Advocates in 29 states and the nation’s capital held news conferences outside the offices of Congressional representatives. 

The Poor People’s Campaign wants lawmakers to support the Third Reconstruction resolution, a nonpartisan measure introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) in May. Titled “Third Reconstruction: Fully Addressing Poverty and Low Wages from the Bottom Up,” the resolution seeks to summon the country’s moral and political resolve to uplift an estimated 140 million people in the U.S. who are impoverished, low-wealth and/or living one emergency away from economic distress. The name draws on the nation’s first Reconstruction following the Civil War and the second Reconstruction of the civil rights movement of the 20th Century. 

“Nothing less than a Third Reconstruction that seeks to end poverty and low wealth by building from the bottom up, that deals with all the issues at one time and not separately, is what’s needed,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign in a statement. “We do not have a scarcity of money. What we have is a scarcity of social consciousness. You all are saying to this country, that’s over. That scarcity is over, too, because we are going to shift the narrative and the consciousness of this country.” 

A U.S. Census Bureau report shows that Covid-19 and the resulting job losses and economic fallout has exacerbated challenges for millions of individuals and families, be it paying rent, buying groceries or keeping the lights on.  President Joe Biden, who has vowed the Biden-Harris Administration will tackle poverty, spoke about the issue at an event in March unveiling the American Jobs Plan.  “Even before the crisis we’re now facing, those at the very top in America were doing very well, which is fine. They were doing great.  But everyone else was falling behind,” the president said, adding that the pandemic made such divisions worse and more obvious.  

The House resolution is a response to years of movement building and activism by countless stakeholders aimed at creating the collective will and necessary steps to implement real and potentially transformational legislative action. 

There are efforts to address poverty in Congress. Back in 2013, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) established the “Majority Leader Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity” which continues today. 

Its goal is to raise awareness among members of Congress and the American people about the ongoing crisis of poverty, the need for a comprehensive national effort to eradicate poverty, and the positive human and economic impact of effective poverty alleviation programs.

“We do not have a scarcity of money. What we have is a scarcity of social consciousness.”

– Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign

It will oversee such issues as urban poverty, rural poverty and workforce development, and meet with key stakeholders, advocates, and White House officials to identify root causes of poverty and support strategies and initiatives aimed at eliminating poverty.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a public health and economic crisis, on top of a poverty crisis, that has hit communities of color especially hard,” said Lee in a statement. “It is unjust and unacceptable that in the richest nation in the world, millions of people are struggling to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.”

Congresswoman Bush, Vice Chair on Children, Families, and Communities, said it is the duty of Congress “to do the most for everyone we represent, beginning with those who have the least.” “I will carry my past experience as an unhoused mother, raising two babies out of our car into this Task Force every day,” she said in a statement. “Poverty is a policy choice, and together we will fight for a future where our families and children have what they need to live a good and joyous life.” 

The Poor People’s Campaign held actions in more than two dozen states that included: Texas, Massachusetts, Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Washington state, West Virginia and Wisconsin and DC. 

Leaders within the organization are stressing that poverty is a moral issue. “It’s an abomination to have 140 million people in the richest country in the world who are poor and one emergency away from deep economic ruin,” Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. “We have the solutions, we have the ideas, we have the resources, in fact, to make all of this a reality,” she said.  

The organization is building to June 21, 2021 when it will hold a National Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers Assembly online and at a socially distanced rally on Halifax Mall in Raleigh, NC. Organizers say they will then launch a one-year campaign toward a Moral March on Washington and Poor People’s & Low-Wage Workers Assembly scheduled for June 18, 2022, in the nation’s capital.