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The nation "must enact a bold policy agenda that lifts from the bottom so all may rise," the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis said Monday. (Photo: Gabriele Holtermann-Gorden/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Poor People's Campaign MLK Day Message to Biden: Act on Bold Agenda to Heal Nation

"In 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King called out the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism. In 2021, his words are no less relevant."

Andrea Germanos

The Poor People's Campaign marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday by urging the incoming Biden administration to swiftly act on a suite of policy priorities that make up a "reconstruction and restoration agenda" to move the nation forward.

"We know that in order to heal this nation we must lift up moral policy solutions that will benefit everybody," the campaign tweeted.

The "Moral and Economic Agenda," as well as the words of MLK and the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, were the subject of a virtual press conference Monday that included campaign co-chairs the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, and other faith leaders.

"On the anniversary of his birth, the nation must have the moral courage to carry on the work of Reverend King," said Theoharis. "It must say no to the violence and racism that are so emboldened at this time. It must enact a bold policy agenda that lifts from the bottom so all may rise."

The campaign along with other social justice leaders released the agenda in December, framing it as a blueprint to "repair and transform the lives of people of every race, ethnicity, age, sexual and gender orientation, who have been suffering unjustly, for far too long."

Fourteen priorities are listed:

  1. Enact comprehensive and just Covid-19 relief that provides free testing, treatment, vaccines, and direct payments to the poor.
  2. Guarantee quality healthcare for all, regardless of any pre-existing conditions.
  3. Raise the minimum wage to $15/ hour immediate.
  4. Update the poverty measure.
  5. Guarantee quality housing for all.
  6. Enact a federal jobs program to build up investments, infrastructure, public institutions, climate resilience, energy efficiency, and socially beneficial industries and jobs in poor and low-income communities.
  7. Protect and expand voting rights and civil rights.
  8. Guarantee safe, quality, and equitable public education, with supports for protection against re-segregation.
  9. Comprehensive and just immigration reform.
  10. Ensure all of the rights of Indigenous peoples.
  11. Enact fair taxes and targeted tax credits.
  12. Use the power of executive orders.
  13. Redirect the bloated Pentagon budget towards these priorities as matters of national security.
  14. Work with the PPC to establish a permanent Presidential Council to advocate for this bold agenda.

"These policy priorities for the first hundred days lift from the bottom and take seriously the cost of inequality—the more than $1 trillion child poverty costs the nation each year and the $2.6 trillion annually lost wages due to gender and racial wage gaps. Any vision for healing this nation must include naming these costs and poverty and low-wealth as a threat to our future," Barber said in a statement last month announcing the agenda.

The need for the sweeping policy changes, president of Union of Reform Judaism Rabbi Rick Jacobs stressed Monday, is especially clear as President Donald Trump leaves office—a departure that will occur less than two weeks after Trump incited the Capitol mob's violence and after months of presiding over a disastrous coronavirus response.

"In 48 hours, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in to lead America forward. The work before them and us is daunting and morally urgent," said Jacobs. "The twin plagues of coronavirus and racial injustice have shined a spotlight on the deadly impact of systemic racism in our country."

Jacobs added that "140 million poor and low-wealth Americans desperately need comprehensive and just Covid-19 relief."

"We need the new administration to protect and expand the voting rights and civil rights of all Americans. We need to end unjust policing practices that disproportionately target Black men. We need to ensure just wages and compassionate immigration policies," Jacobs said.

Joyce Ajlouny, general secretary of American Friends Service Committee, also addressed the nation's deeply entrenched injustices.

"The events of the past two weeks are the product of centuries of white supremacy that must be reckoned with and dismantled," she said. "The thousand dead from Covid-19—disproportionately Black and Brown people—are a product of structural racism and a healthcare system that values profit over people. It is time to chart a new path forward."

"In 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King called out the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism. In 2021, his words are no less relevant," Ajlouny said.

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