What is the Poor People’s March and what do participants want?
On Saturday, poor and low-income people from across the nation will take to the streets of Washington, D.C., to march for economic justice; organizers say that there’s something bigger at stake: America’s democracy
As inflation balloons, rent prices soar and a worldwide recession looms on the horizon, people from across the country will gather in Washington, D.C., on Saturday to participate in the Poor People’s and Low Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls. Starting at 9:30 a.m., they’ll head out from the corner of 3rd and Pennsylvania NW to make their way through the capital city.
The march is part of the broader movement known as the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, which is led by the Rev. William J. Barber II and the Rev. Liz Theoharis. It was launched in 2018 with 40 days of nonviolent action and aims to unite “people across the nation to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality of religious nationalism,” according to a press release.
The name is borrowed from a movement of the same name started by the late Martin Luther King Jr. not long before his 1968 assassination. The Rev. Barber has called his movement “the unfinished work of MLK.”
Like King, the Rev. Barber believes that economic and racial justice are inextricably linked. The modern Poor People’s Campaign calls for, among other things, universal health care, a $15 dollar minimum wage, immigration reform, the reinstitution of convicted felon’s voting rights and an end to voter suppression tactics. Saturday’s march is focused on the same goals.
The. Rev. Barber eschews labels like left and right and does not align himself with any political party. The Poor People’s Campaign and his other projects are instead focused on building a multiracial, multifaith coalition that will inject American politics with what organizers feel is a much-needed dose of morality and justice.
Saturday’s march — which represents a call for a “moral revolution,” organizers wrote on Facebook — comes at a time when a growing share of the country is struggling economically. The event is intended to be “a generationally-transformative and disruptive gathering of poor and low-wealth people, state leaders, faith communities, moral allies, unions, and partnering organizations” according to Repairers of the Breach, an organization founded by the Rev. Barber that helps to train “moral activists,” according to its website.
Among the partner organizations that are helping to mobilize for the march are a number of religious institutions and faith-based organizations, including Presbyterian and Episcopal churches, the National Council of Churches USA, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Jewish Voice for Peace, Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Islamic Society of North America.
At least one church intends to host a “watch party” of the march, which will be livestreamed, according to comments on the Poor People’s Campaign’s Facebook page.
On Wednesday, ahead of the march, organizers and participants spoke in a congressional briefing that began with a discussion of how to fix the policies that they believe are responsible for poverty. Possible solutions to poverty have been laid out in House Resolution 438, said Reps. Barbara Lee, D-California, and Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, who introduced the bill to Congress in May 2021.
Speaking of the fact that some 140 million Americans live in poverty or just one check away from a financial disaster, the Rev. Theoharis said during the briefing, “It does not have to be this way. The solutions are known. The answers are at hand, the policies are ready to be passed.”
But the campaign isn’t just about social, economic and racial justice — it’s also about ensuring the future of American democracy, said the Rev. Barber on Wednesday.
“What we’re talking about is this democracy cannot sustain the tension of 140 million people living in poverty and low wealth and 52% of our children in the wealthiest nation on the face of the earth,” he said during the congressional briefing.
The Rev. Barber also warned that continued economic inequality will create the “breeding grounds” for autocrats, demagogues and incidents that would “make Jan. 6 look like a joke.”
He added that if significant change doesn’t occur within two years of Saturday’s march, the Poor People’s Campaign will engage in “all-out nonviolent civil disobedience.”
America’s current policies amount to a life-and death-struggle, the Rev. Barber said.
“This is about whether this country will write off 43% (of its population) to just die,” he said. “Policy got us here and policy can get us out of here.”