Thunder is building and its roar about to be heard as advocates for social justice prepare for the May unrolling of the national Poor People’s Campaign: ‘A National Call for Moral Revival’ and its 40 days of action on poverty, racism, militarism and ecological devastation.
Modeled after the original Martin Luther King Jr. campaign in 1967-68, the project involves mobilizations at state capitals, educational events and cultural events that will hone in on the facts about dirty rivers, public land encroachment, wide wage gaps, issues of race and culture, and the war economy.
“New York has the worst income equality in the country, with 3 million people living in poverty while the wealth of 109 New York billionaires soars,” reports Emily McNeill, director of the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, which is supported by faith communities and labor organizations such as New York State United Teachers. The coalition is spearheading support for the campaign in this state.
“Forty-four percent of the people in this country are poor or low-income,” said Lyndsey Lyman, community education coordinator for the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, using data from the Poor People’s Campaign. Lyman noted that in the six-county area served by this food bank, there are 73,540 “food-insecure” people for a rate of about 13 percent. In Albany County the rate is also 13 percent. In Franklin County it is 14 percent.
Meanwhile, across New York, there are 2.3 million people without enough food to eat. They include: neighbors, parents, children, women in parks, scared families, moms and dads seen at parent-teacher nights, and teenagers.
That’s one reason why in New York, the Labor-Religion Coalition is clamoring to legislate tax cuts for the wealthy that would help the poor as a means to help address disparities.
“Part of the reason we need a Poor People’s Campaign is that a lot of things have gotten worse since the original Poor People’s Campaign 50 years ago,” McNeill said.
To gain momentum for 2018 campaign, which begins on Mother’s Day, events are being held throughout different states focusing on specific parts of the campaign. In February, a press conference was held at the Capitol announcing the campaign, coinciding with similar press conferences in 30 other states. Letters also were delivered to elected officials. And a recent event in Troy was devoted to women in poverty and women in leadership.
“The biggest challenge is bringing folks together across the different lines that often divide us,” said McNeill, citing examples of people who have geographic, racial and religious differences, or are involved in single-issue campaigns. “We have to build trust to be able to work together and learn from each other.”
Some of the organizers and participants of the 2018 Poor People’s Campaign worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his campaign 50 years ago “and have been involved in these struggles,” said McNeill. They know about the gains that were made – such as women being more visible in leadership positions — and which areas of concern become worse, she said, adding Dr. King “predicted that if there wasn’t a major course correction, the disparity between the rich and the poor would get worse.”
Lyman said steps are being taken to “change the narrative about who is hungry and why.” Efforts, for example, are being made to foster understanding in to how it is that people become poor. It’s not always individual choice, or a situational circumstance such as an accident, she explained.
Since 1968, the number of Americans below the official poverty line has increased by 60 percent to 40.6 million, a preliminary audit released by the Institute for Policy Studies shows. In that same period, the top 1 percent’s share of national income has nearly doubled.
McNeill noted King warned, “that civil rights legislation wasn’t really tackling the economic oppression of the African Americans in this country. He saw that coming.”
And, said McNeill, since the election of Donald Trump, “people are able to see more clearly that racism is very entrenched, and there’s an increased awareness of the importance to address that, to get involved.”
The Poor People’s Campaign is –co-chaired by social justice activists Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis.
“The linked evils of voter suppression laws, mass incarceration, bloated military spending, and a lack of access to clean air and water require everyone who believes in justice to come together,” Theoharis said in a written statement. “Our movement is breaking down barriers by uniting poor and marginalized people, moral leaders and people of all backgrounds to fight for a common moral agenda,”
Individuals and organizations can sign up for the campaign at www.poorpeoplescampaign.org. Organizations can also endorse the state campaign and can join the statewide steering committee.
Meanwhile, those already involved are taking action by taking aim at the state budget.
“ Lawmakers in Albany are talking about a budget deficit and the need for cuts, but we know that if the wealthiest pay their fair share we can afford to provide the education, health care, housing and services that benefit all of us,” said McNeill. “Passing an expanded multi-millionaire’s tax, closing the carried-interest tax loophole and addressing the inequities of the new federal tax law would bring billions in new revenue for essential needs.”
Events in New York
Monday, May 14th
Albany, NY - 11am - Bus drop off and convening for participants at First Presbyterian Church, 362 State St. Those intending to participate in civil disobedience will meet just down the street at Emmanuel Baptist Church, 275 State St.; 1:30pm - Depart First Presbyterian for West Capitol Park; 2pm - Rally at West Capitol Park, State St. RSVP Here.
Wednesday, March 21
Statewide tax and justice event. 2:45-4:15 pm, Buffalo, Back to Basic Ministries, 1370 William St #3, RSVP here.
Thursday, March 22, 6:30-8 pm — Elmira Area Poor People's Campaign Informational Meeting. Elmira Opportunity Program, 650 Baldwin St., Elmira. Doors open at 6 pm, light refreshments. Meeting starts at 6:30. https://www.facebook.com/events/1992540727734095/
Thursday, March 22
Presentation on PPC in Beacon - 7:30 pm at the Beacon Hebrew Alliance - https://beaconhebrewalliance.org/civicrm/event/register?id=5272&reset=1
Friday, March 23
Workshop focused on the Poor People's Campaign and the "four evils," with Manolo de los Santos of the Popular Education Project (PEP). Ithaca. Participation from Multicultural Resource Center, Food Bank of the Southern Tier, Committee on U.S.-Latin Amerikican Relations (CUSLAR) and Warrior Writers / Combat Paper. Details forthcoming.
Friday, March 23
Conversation on Gender/Sexuality, Race and Class at Dominican Women’s Development Center - NYC, 715 West 179th Street, NY
Voices from Women Organized to Resist and Defend, AF3IRM, and The Poor People’s Campaign
Sunday, March 25, 5pm
Poor People’s Campaign Mass Meeting, Park Ave. Christian Church
Monday, March 26
10 am-1pm — PPC Consecration and Field Report - Union Theological Seminary - https://utsnyc.edu/event/consecrating-the-poor-people-campaign/
Tuesday, March 27, 6-8pm
PPC Student Speak-Out - College of St. Rose