With Union Support, New Poor People’s Campaign Begins

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Supported by the Service Employees and the United Food and Commercial Workers, the New Poor People’s Campaign, the mass movement planned to bring the problems of poverty – and agitate for eradicating them – to the nation’s conscience, will kick off with an anti-war, anti-militarism sermon in D.C. on May 6 by co-chair the Rev. William Barber and a mass rally, with planned civil disobedience, at the U.S. Capitol on May 14.

And starting that day, organizers in D.C. told a small group on May Day, the campaign will bring its causes not just to Congress but to state capitols, all the way from Mother’s Day through the summer solstice – and beyond.

“We will protest at more than 30 statehouses and the U.S. Capitol demanding a massive overhaul of the nation’s voting rights laws, new programs to lift up the 140 million Americans living in poverty, immediate attention to ecological devastation and measures to curb militarism and the war economy,” the campaign’s website said.

“We will hold teach-ins to learn more about these issues and how we can organize to transform our nation’s political, economic and moral structures,” it added.

The D.C. meeting was one of dozens nationwide in the week before the rally on Capitol Hill. D.C. organizers explained there are other workshops, teach-ins, training in peaceful civil disobedience and more, going in the intervening days between now and June 23.

“All the states are coming to D.C. for one big action” that day, said the Rev. Terence Mayo, one of the three coordinators of the D.C. local committee. “But that’s not the end of the campaign. It’s only the beginning. This will be a multi-year effort” to bring the issue of poverty to the forefront of the political debate and demand its eradication.

Several unions, including SEIU, UFCW and the D.C local of the Teachers (AFT), have already pledged support for the New Poor People’s Campaign, local D.C. organizers said.

And the New Poor People’s Campaign has specifically sworn off – and will not host -- partisan officials or candidates when it stages its mass rally on June 23. “This is not about left or right, Democrat or Republican, but about right and wrong,” their statement says.

“Working families are under attack on multiple fronts from the self-interested politicians and their greedy corporate backers who have waged a decades-long assault on working people and communities of color. The Rev. William Barber’s new Poor People’s Campaign and National Call for a Moral Revival comes at a crucial time when we are under a more furious, sustained assault than any time in recent memory,” SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said when Barber started the campaign a year ago.

“The Rev. Barber understands that for our children to have a chance at a better life, we must link the fights for higher wages and the ability to join together in a union with the fight for racial justice. We cannot achieve economic justice unless we attack the systemic racism that still plagues our nation,” added Henry.

She noted Barber is a longtime backer of SEIU members and the Fight for $15 and a union “because he understands how these fights are tied together.”

“The Poor People’s Campaign” and UFCW both believe “our economy can and should work better for everyone,” UFCW President Marc Perrone said this March. “Telling the millions of people who are struggling alone, to work harder, complain less, or pray more won’t work.” 

"Wage inequality, the assault on voting rights, underemployment, and the attacks on immigrant and refugee communities are all part of a systemic effort to disenfranchise poor communities. We’re proud to support The Poor People’s Campaign because, if successful, it will bring hard-working families more power to build better lives.”

The AFL-CIO, while not explicitly endorsing the New Poor People’s Campaign, cited it in a resolution the federation’s convention approved last year. “The revival of a ‘Poor Peoples’ Campaign’ is not an indulgence in nostalgia, but an essential activity in the fight for justice for all workers and poor people from diverse backgrounds,” the measure said.

The new PPC issued 12 fundamental principles for its campaign, including ordering “all its participants and endorsers embrace non-violence,” just as the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did 50 years ago in the first Poor People’s Campaign and in his prior civil rights crusade.

They include developing and deepening leadership among people who suffer most from poverty, forming a “moral majority…based on our constitutional values” and “rooted in equal justice for all,” and a belief that “equal protection under the law is non-negotiable.”

For the new PPC, religiously moral issues are not “personal issues like abortion, prayer in school, sexuality, gun rights and property rights” – the causes of the radical right – but “systemic injustices” against workers, the poor, children, immigrants, the old and the sick.

“The centrality of systemic racism must be named, detailed and exposed…Poverty and economic equality cannot be understood apart from a society built on white supremacy,” the campaign principles add.

That’s notable because the GOP Trump administration and Congress’ Republican majority have launched wars on both workers’ rights and the poor. The latter war includes proposed cuts in food stamps, federally subsidized housing and so-called “work requirements” at poverty wages to stay eligible for aid.

“People should not live in or die from poverty in the richest nation ever to exist,” the NPPC principles state. “Blaming the poor and claiming the U.S. does not have…resources to overcome poverty are false narratives used to perpetuate economic exploitation, exclusion and deep inequality.”




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