Activists in 40 states of the United States have been encouraged in latest efforts by Rev. William Barber of Goldsboro, North Carolina, and Rev. Liz Theoharis of New York City, to take part in acts of civil disobedience, teach-ins and demonstrations to force communities to address poverty.
In recent weeks, thousands of anti-poverty activists have launched a campaign modeled after Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign of 1968.
Advocates are hoping to draw attention to those struggling with deep poverty across the country particularly in suburbs and farm settlements, like the push 50 years ago, and it brings to mind the tumultuous summer of 1968 when the two leading backers of the campaign — King and Robert F. Kennedy — were assassinated two months apart.
According to them, poverty continues to be ignored and only a “moral revival” can bring it to the nation’s consciousness.
King before he was assassinated sought to organize a campaign to bring the country’s attention toward poverty, given his conviction that attacking poverty was the next phase of the civil rights movement. The 1968 campaign advocated for a guaranteed income, the end to housing discrimination and reduce the nation’s growing trend toward militarism, at an era when about 13 percent of U.S. residents lived in poverty.
To dramatize the plight of the poor, King reached out to Mexican-American, Native American and Appalachia white leaders to build a multi-ethnic, multiracial coalition that would come from their hometowns on “mule carts” and “old trucks” to Washington, D.C.,
Thousands of poor people set up a shantytown they called “Resurrection City” on the Washington National Mall but became demoralized by racial tensions, a lack of leadership, and eventually, the assassination of Kennedy.
According to the organizers, the rationale behind the 2018 campaign is to use the 50th anniversary of the 1968 effort to restart conversations around the struggles that poor people continue to face, especially since the U.S. poverty rate is roughly back to around 13 percent. This time, Barber and Theoharis said the campaign won’t be centered solely in Washington and would include events around the country.
In a demonstration slated to run for 40 days, demonstrators plan is to hold acts of civil disobedience like blocking traffic and refusing to leave public buildings every Monday nationwide. Hundreds of activists, including Rev. Jesse Jackson, have been arrested so far.
Theoharis said the purpose is to build “a season of organizing” to create a long-term movement aimed at restoring the Voting Rights Act, ending gerrymandering, and helping bolster the minimum wage. She said organizers also hope to influence the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 presidential election.
Barber admits the new campaign also calls for protection of immigrant, LGBT residents and refugees from the Middle East since the nation is more diverse than in 1968.
The campaign, by Barber’s reckoning has not received enough attention and has been ignored and overshadowed by what he calls “Trump porn” and excessive coverage of President Donald Trump’s tweets, the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election and the legal fight involving adult film actress Stormy Daniels.
Small newspapers that used to cover poor rural areas like Linden, Tennessee and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota also have faced cutbacks. Not since Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign have national politicians regularly visited rural, poor areas and focused on poverty in their platforms.
Many American Christians, said Barber have ignored the plight of the poor since megachurches regularly focus on the “prosperity Gospel.” Others have been focused solely on abortion and fighting gay rights, he said.
This multi-faith campaign, assures Barber, seeks to reaffirm messages that religious figures like Jesus were primarily concerned about helping the poor and that the country had a moral obligation to tackle poverty. He also promised that organizers plan to pressure for media
The coverage of U.S.-Mexico border areas like El Paso, Texas, and Native American communities like San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona, Barber promised organizers will put pressure on the media to do.