Last week in Washington, the powers that be heard from a vital new democratic force in this country.
For three days, the Poor People’s Campaign brought poor and low-wage Americans to the nation’s capital to call for a moral renewal in this nation. They questioned many of those who are seeking the Democratic nomination for president. Congressional hearings showcased their Poor People’s Moral Budget.
Their actions should be above the fold of every newspaper in America; they should lead the news shows and fill the talk shows. A movement for common sense and social justice is building, putting every politician on notice: lead or get out of the way, a new moral majority is building and demanding change.
As the co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign, the Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, write in their forward, this movement is not partisan. It calls not for liberal or conservative reforms, but for a moral renewal. It is not a deep-pocket lobby. It is mobilizing the 144 million Americans who are poor or one crisis away from poverty into a “new and unsettling force” to “revive the heart of democracy in America.”
This movement launched on Mother’s Day in May 2018. In 40 days, it triggered 200 actions across many states with 5,000 nonviolent demonstrators committing civil disobedience, and millions following the protests online. Forty states now have coordinating committees build a coalition of poor people and people of faith and conscience across lines of race, religion, region and other lines of division.
They are morally outraged that the richest nation in the world would in a “willful act of policy violence” condemn 140 million — more than 40 percent of the population — to live in poverty or near poverty. This includes 39 million children, 60 percent — 26 million — of African Americans, 64 percent — 38 million — of Latinos, more than one-third — 66 million — of white Americans.
These realities — and the extreme inequality that scars this society — predate the Trump administration, but now Trump is fanning increasing policy violence against the poor. In response, the Poor People’s Campaign is doing deep organizing and power building among the poor, turning them from victims to subject actors in history.
This week, the campaign releases their Poor People’s Moral Budget. It details authoritatively that the cost of our current inequality, the cost of mass poverty is far greater than what it would cost to invest in people, put them to work at a living wage and guarantee basic economic and political rights. It costs society big time to not provide health care or quality education or clean water and air, to suppress voting rights and to keep wages low.
The moral budget is detailed and authoritatively sourced. The numbers are clear, as is the conclusion.
As the document concludes, “We have been investing in killing people; we most now invest in life. We have been investing in systemic racism and voter suppression; we must now invest in expanding democracy. We have been investing in punishing the poor; we must now invest in the welfare of all. We have been investing in the wealthy and corporations; we must now invest in the people who build this country.”
This is not a time for incremental change, but for fundamental transformation of our priorities and our direction. The budget details large reforms — from automatic voter registration, a living wage, health care for all, quality education from pre-K through college, investment in clean energy and modern infrastructure. It details how these and other reforms can be easily afforded by fair taxes on the wealthy and corporations and by ending our effort to police the world.
The Poor People’s Campaign picks up the unfinished work of Dr. Martin Luther King. It realizes that ending the policy of violence on the poor at home cannot be achieved without challenging the costly endless wars and constant arms buildup that only make us less secure. It understands that change will come not from the top down, not from our corrupted big money politics, but from the poor, the worker, people of conscience coming together to revive our democracy and to change our course.
In these troubled times, the promise of this new force is powerful. Across the country, working and poor people are beginning to move. If this movement can continue to grow, it will transform our politics. And it is the only force that can.