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The Poor People’s Campaign


By Menra Mapfumo | NNPA Newswire

The Poor People’s Campaign was established in 1968 by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King who wanted it to highlight the need for economic equality and social justice.

King wanted to help poor people by demanding the means for basic necessities. He said the Poor People’s Campaign would seek to “demand jobs, unemployment insurance, a fair minimum wage, and education for poor adults and children designed to improve their self-image and self-esteem.”

King said the Poor People’s Campaign would be “the beginning of a new co-operation, understanding, and a determination by poor people of all colors and backgrounds to assert and win their right to a decent life and respect for their culture and dignity.”

On April 3, 1968, during the Memphis Sanitation workers strike, King told the workers, “We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through.” His words further reinforced the mission of the Poor People’s Campaign.

One day later, King was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn.

Bishop William J. Barber, II is continuing the efforts of the Poor People’s Campaign.

Barber held mobilization marches June 18 in Los Angeles, the site of America’s largest homeless population, and in Memphis, the site of King’s martyrdom.

In both cities, marchers expressed how they felt about the Poor People’s Campaign. They expressed how they felt about poverty and homelessness in America. Some told their own stories of living in poverty and being homeless.

Marchers expressed how they felt about the mass shooting in Buffalo and if they felt there is a relation between poverty and gun violence.

“The same people that are blocking laws that uplift the poor are the same ones that are spewing so much of this racist violence and rhetoric… claiming that the whole society is at threat because of Black and Brown people. This rhetoric that is being spewed… can get in the minds of people and it can radicalize them. The real question about the killer is not ‘who is he?’ but ‘who radicalized him?’” Barber said in Los Angeles.

“Secondly, this business of death is too broad in this country and we accept too much of it. A million people died from COVID. Poor people die five times higher in some ways… We keep having mass deaths and we talk about it for a day or two and then it goes away. Even before COVID, we had a quarter of a million people die from poverty, seven hundred people a day, and hardly a whimper being said about it. We had to decide we’re not just going to be quiet and accept death anymore.

“Lastly, we have to see if this attack of what happened in Buffalo is connected to the season of violence that we’re in. Go back to the University of Virginia when they were shouting ‘Jews will not replace us.’ This whole replacement theory that has its roots in some parts of Europe, in Nazism, as well as here in America, is violent in and of itself because it’s always trying to point out who has to go in order for some people to live… It always means somebody has to be destroyed.”

Barber expressed how he felt about the mobilization of the Poor People’s Campaign.

“I have mixed feelings… Sometimes I get bothered that we still have to do it, but I am glad that I am alive to do it… There’s something going on in this country… and people are responding from every state in this country… Most of all poor, low wealth people are leading the way and what I love about them is none of them are talking about this as a day. They’re all talking about it as a declaration, as an announcement, as a beginning, as a moving forward, as a commitment.”

Irma Hall Wood spoke on what brought her to the Poor People’s Campaign rally in Los Angeles.

“My brothers are hurting, including myself. God looks up on each one of us as a whole. All of us are his children and he doesn’t want us to suffer. Why suffer when there are millions of dollars? There are more millionaires these days than ever before. Why are we suffering? We can’t pay our rent, we can’t have health insurance; Accessible quality health insurance…”