This Mother’s Day, at a moment when people in poverty are facing unprecedented attacks on their basic living standards, a new Poor People’s Campaign launches.
It is reminiscent of the campaign Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began developing in 1967, five months prior to his assassination. King made his intention clear in his last sermon: “We are coming to Washington in a poor people’s campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses.… We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty.”
More than 50 years later, the new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is coming to Washington. But it will be taking action in 39 states across the country, too. The first phase will be 40 days of direct actions, teach-ins, cultural events, and more. The campaign will then transition to voter registration and mobilization.
Many people are familiar with campaign co-chair the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, through his leadership of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina. (Barber is also The Nation’s civil-rights correspondent.) Less well-known is his fellow co-chair, the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. Theoharis is the co-director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice. She has worked as an organizer with people in poverty for the past two decades, collaborating with groups like the National Union of the Homeless, the National Welfare Rights Union, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
I spoke with Reverend Theoharis about how poverty is viewed in America, the contours of the campaign, the role of the media, and what organizers hope to achieve in the first 40 days and beyond. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Greg Kaufmann: Is this campaign trying to tell a different story about poverty in America?
The Rev. Liz Theoharis: Yes; we are showing the deep reality of poverty where there are 140 million people who are poor or low-income in this country—where poverty affects close to half the US population. It affects people across all races, nationalities, ethnicities, geographies, genders, sexualities, ages, and religions.