As Trump Sows Division, Poor People's Campaign Ignites 'Transformative Action' to Address Interwoven Injustices

A detail from a poster for the the Mass Poor People's Assembly and Moral March on Washington. (Image: Poor People's Campaign)

As Trump Sows Division, Poor People's Campaign Ignites 'Transformative Action' to Address Interwoven Injustices

"Those in power today want nothing more than to stop this kind of movement," said Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. 

Hours before President Donald Trump held a Saturday evening rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he gave self-congratulatory, division-sowing speech, the Poor People's Campaign offered a progressive counterpoint with a virtual social justice assembly that uplifted the stories of those suffering from poverty and racial injustice and unveiled a policy platform to spur "transformative action."

"Poverty and racism are systemic problems that need systemic solutions. We are that solution," said Jamilla Allen of Durham, North Carolina, one of the testifiers who spoke Saturday at the online event.

Entitled the Mass Poor People's Assembly and Moral March on Washington, the event--moved online in light of the coronaviurs pandemic--was sponsored by The Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

The campagn is co-chaired by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of Repairers of the Breach, based in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice in New York City.

"Those in power today want nothing more than to stop this kind of movement," said Theoharis. "It's why they spend so much time and money trying to deny us the right to vote, why they attack protesters, spread lies meant to narrow our vision and limit our aspirations, divide us up by issue and by region, by race, gender, immigration status, political party."

The digital assembly was broadcast twice on Saturday, and airs for a third and final time on Sunday at 6 pm EST. Organizers say the first broadcast drew 1.2 million Facebook viewers, a tally that doesn't caputure viewers from other media platforms like MSNBC's YouTube broadcast of the gathering. Trump's in-person gathering, in contrast, was far smaller than his campaign expected, wth huge sections of the 19,000-seat arena empty.

Click here to tune in live at 6 pm EST Sunday.

Speakers included faith leaders, celebrities, policy experts, and ordinary Americans whose plight, despite being the direct result of deliberate policy choices, is often overlooked or erased.

"The war on the poor in this country seeks to blame the poor people for their circumstances," said testifier said Curtis Bradford of San Francisco. "It wanted me to believe that I was the problem," he said. "I'm still here despite the odds, and I no longer buy into the narrative that poverty is my fault."

The campaign and its partners highlighted other moments from the event on Twitter:

The campaign also urged people to pressure lawmakers to declare their support for the "Poor People's Moral Justice Jubilee Policy Platform"--a set of bold and sweeping policies the movement unveiled on Saturday covering issues from protecting and expanding the right to vote, ending mass incarceration, honoring Indigenous rights, canceling student and medical debt, protecting and expanding Social Security, enacting a federal jobs program, protecting the right to unionize, and establashing universal healthcare.

The document is centered on five principles:

  • Everybody in, nobody out. Everybody is deserving of our nation's abundance.
  • When you lift from the bottom, everybody rises. Instead of "trickle-down," we start with the bottom up.
  • Prioritize the leadership of the poor, low-income, and most impacted. Those who are on the frontlines of these crises must also be in the lead in identifying their solutions.
  • Debts that cannot be paid must be relieved. We demand freedom from servicing the debts we cannot pay.
  • We need a moral revolution of values to repair the breach in our land. This platform abides by our deepest moral and Constitutional commitments to justice. Where harm has been done, it must be acknowledged and undone.

In a statement launching the new platform, the movement explained:

We have seen the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and untold others at the hands of state violence. We have witnessed the death of more than 115,000 people from the novel coronavirus in the United States, more than one-quarter of all cases globally. But in addition to these losses which have made headlines, an unseen 700 people continue to die from poverty and inequality each day. Poverty kills 250,000 people every year in America and it is still not frontpage news. For every day we choose not to address systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation, militarism and the war economy, and the distorted narrative of religious nationalism that justifies these evils, there is a death measurement.

If if seems a long list of issues to tackle, Rev. Barber says there's no option but to go bold.

"The worst mistake we could make now with all of this marching and protesting in the street would be to demand too little," he said.

The stakes, Barber said, couldn't be greater.

"Now is the time. This is the place and we are the people," said Barber. "Now this isn't about conservative vs. liberal. That's too puny. This isn't about left vs. right. That's too puny. It's about life vs. death."

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