The President’s Council of Economic Advisers recently declared that the War on Poverty “is largely over and a success,” in an effort to justify new work requirements for public safety-net programs. This is more than just untrue. It is a willful act of violence at a time when there are 140 million poor and low-income people in the richest country in the history of the world. Since 2010, there has been an onslaught of attacks on voting rights in state legislatures and racialized voter suppression and gerrymandering have helped to smuggle state leaders into office who then turn around and pass policies that hurt the poor and marginalized.
As clergy who minister and work alongside poor people across America, we know these realities predate the current administration. Income inequality and wealth disparity have increased under Republicans and Democrats over the past four decades. Poor people and moral leaders have been calling for a Poor People’s Campaign for a long time. At the invitation of local communities, we visited 26 states in 2016, holding “Moral Revivals” in forgotten places where we met black, white, brown, and Native Americans who are starving for a new moral vision of the common good. So, when the election of 2016 happened, we didn’t have to react. We knew Donald Trump was a symptom of a moral crisis and that nothing less than building a long-term, mass fusion movement would have the power to change the narrative and change the policy direction of the country.
Fortunately, such a movement was already underway in the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. On New Year’s Eve of 2017, we held a Watch Night Service and National Teach-In calling for a Poor People’s Campaign and moral revival in the land. We went back on the road, traveling to 15 communities by invitation and pulling together leaders from 37 states, training them specifically for the launch of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.
The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival went public on December 4, 2017, with a press conference and action in the Capitol Rotunda as the Senate and House were debating the draconian tax bill, the biggest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich since the Civil War. On February 5, 2018, we held simultaneous press conferences in more than 35 states announcing how grassroots leaders in states across the country were readying for 40 days of action, education, and organizing. On February 12, on the 50th anniversary of the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike, Fight for $15 workers in dozens of cities across the country joined up with the Poor People’s Campaign and went on strike. On March 26, we were consecrated by moral leaders from many faith traditions at Union Theological Seminary. On April 4, we stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. King’s assassination and urged that to really honor Dr. King, we needed to pick up the baton and finish the unfinished business of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. On April 9, we released the Souls of Poor Folk Audit and Moral Agenda for the Campaign. On May 13 at National City Christian Church we broadcast the mass meeting that kicked off 40 days of nonviolent moral fusion direct action.