A national campaign that aims to unite disenfranchised populations across the U.S. held events in Kentucky and West Virginia late last week. Meetings are part of a two-month tour designed to highlight social inequity, and build on a movement begun 50 years ago by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Local groups in Kentucky and West Virginia worked with national organizers to plan the events. Several similar rallies and meetings have been held across the country in the past few weeks to generate momentum around what’s called “the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.”
Modeled after the original Martin Luther King Jr. “Poor People’s Campaign” in 1967-68, the project involves mobilizations at state capitals and educational and cultural events that focus on realities about environmental contamination, public land encroachment, wage gaps, race and culture issues, and the war economy.
The Poor People's Campaign is in the process of organizing a 40-day protest, including a series of actions meant to highlight racism, and call out political leaders who are not helping to fight poverty. The campaign is also involved in several "get out the vote" actions to get more people to the polls for the midterm elections.
The nationwide action, which will include marches and other non-violent demonstrations, begins on Mother's Day.
A local organizer from West Virginia, Reverend Ronald English, explained that the event is an extension of the campaign Martin Luther King, Jr. began 50 years ago.
“So we’re able to kind of build on what would have been the momentum that Dr. King had in mind with the original Poor People’s Campaign,” English said, “I’m glad that that’s been taken up.”
English, who knew King, says he’s hopeful that some of King’s objectives can be fulfilled now, 50 years after his death, with the support of grassroots organizers.
Other speakers at the West Virginia event included local people who have experienced poverty growing up, and who continue to experience poverty even though they work full time jobs and have educational degrees.
One speaker was Amy Jo Hutchinson, of Wheeling, West Virginia, who helps organize the Our Children our Future Campaign in her state. She reflected on her support for what teachers accomplished during a recent work stoppage, but noted her own frustration that the same momentum is not behind the campaigns for poor, working class people in the state:
“I watched my state and nation rally behind these teachers who are making more than the people I organize around with Our Children Our Future every day. We’re fighting for middle class people, because they want better health insurance. Why aren’t [middle class] guys fighting for us?”
Events also included discussions lead by co-chair of the Poor People's campaign, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber.
“Being poor isn’t a sin. But poverty is,” Barber said at a stop in Harlan County, Kentucky.
He called for Progressives to get behind a movement to help fight against voter suppression laws and other policies which he believes are keeping poor people of all races poor.
“You might be bloodied, you might be bruised, you might be broken, you might be poor, you might be without a union, you might be hurting, you might be black, you might be white, you might be brown, you might be gay, you might be straight, but you say - if we be lifted up, somebody’s gonna see this. Because there can’t be a resurrection, there can’t be any change, until we see it.”