By Menra Mapfumo
The Poor People’s Campaign was established in 1968, by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King wanted the Poor People’s Campaign to highlight the need for economic equality and social justice.
Dr. King wanted to help poor people by demanding the means for basic necessities. In 1967, Dr. King 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.”
In March 1968, Dr. 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, Dr. 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.
Dr. King’s work is unfinished because on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN.
Bishop William J. Barber, II is continuing the efforts of the Poor People’s Campaign Dr. King began.
Dr. Barber is mobilizing for a Mass Poor People’s & Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls June 18. Recently he held mobilization marches for June 18 Los Angeles, the site of America’s largest homeless population, and in Memphis, the site of Dr. 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.
In Los Angeles, CA, Bishop William J. Barber, II said “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?’”
“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.”
Bishop Barber expressed how he felt about the mobilization of the Poor People’s Campaign on June 18th.
Bishop Barber said, “I am feeling good about it. 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.”
Patrick Groman, a homeless man, and a chairman of the San Diego chapter of the California Homeless Union said, “Homeless is not a crime. We’ve been hearing… there’s been a lot of crime, a lot of activity and the majority of all these crimes all over the place are blamed on the homeless. You can’t just target one particular individual or all individuals… A lot of people don’t realize that when you’re homeless… you’re dealing with a lot of different individuals. You’re dealing with people who loss their jobs, dealing with [veterans], dealing with people with mental illness. There is not enough help and support out there.”
Irma Hall Wood spoke on what brought her to the Poor People’s Campaign rally in Los Angeles, CA.
Wood said, “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…”
Marcher and Memphis, TN resident, Jayonee Webster spoke on poverty.
Webster said, “Most of the city of Memphis is living on poverty wages and we really need to change those conditions. I grew up in poverty.”
Webster also spoke on if she felt she was continuing the work of Dr. King.
Webster said, “Absolutely. The Civil Rights Movement never ended and here we are today as an expression of that. An expression of lots of different movements coming together.”