“‘We’ is the most important word in the social justice vocabulary”
– the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II
As daily news of scandal and corruption comes to light, an underlying message emerges: our nation is in dire need of a moral revival. We had a good start 50 years ago when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood with sanitation workers in Memphis to demand fair wages and dignity. Their “I am a man” signs conveyed a simple message: workers are individuals with human rights, and they would no longer tolerate being treated as expendable.
King's Poor People's Campaign did not end the injustices that plague our society today. Recognizing this, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II (Repairers of the Breach) and the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis (Kairos Center) recently launched The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival to build upon Dr. King's work.
Based upon ideals expressed in our nation's founding documents, the new campaign posits that no one should live in or die from poverty in this wealthy nation. A livable minimum wage is essential for the welfare of all. The campaign recognizes that systemic racism, overt and implicit, continues to impede our progress toward a just society. The derailed promise of school desegregation combined with policy-induced poverty leaves us with the school-to-prison pipeline and criminalization of the poor.
The campaign recognizes the perverse influences of racism and classism – and of money – on public policies at national, state and local levels; and thus the importance of direct action by citizens impacted by immoral public policies. It encourages citizens to deemphasize political party and, instead, consider right versus wrong and value truth.
The Campaign's “National Call for Moral Revival” augments Dr. King's work by addressing the distorted morality so evident in politicians' pandering to the wealthy and middle class while they disregard the plight of the poor. North Carolina legislators' shameful attempts to discourage political participation by the poor and by people of color have garnered national attention and, fortunately, judicial rebuke. Their refusal to expand Medicaid for the poor is similarly appalling, as are their elimination of the state's Earned Income Tax Credit, truncation of unemployment benefits and attempts to privatize public functions like education. Their refusal to deal constructively with climate change, air and water pollution constitute an immoral assault on our children and our grandchildren. Perhaps most egregious is the devaluation of truth at all political levels.
Now is the right time for The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. We are planning 40 days of simultaneous, nonviolent direct action in 41 states plus Washington, D.C., beginning May 13. Training sessions are underway now around the state and will continue on Mondays in Raleigh during the direct action phase.
We welcome all people of good will and urge them to join us. To learn how, go to the NC Poor People's Campaign page on Facebook and/or www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/.
Ana Blackburn, Lovè Lemon and Joyce Johnson are co-chairs of the N.C. Poor People's Campaign. Anita Simha is on the communications committee.