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Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II speaks at a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on May 20, 2021. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

'We Are Coming': Poor People's Campaign to March Against Manchin Obstructionism in West Virginia

"Manchin's positions are wrong, constitutionally inconsistent, historically inaccurate, morally indefensible, economically insane, and politically unacceptable," said the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II.

Brett Wilkins

Outraged by Joe Manchin's obstruction of Democratic efforts to protect and expand voting rights and end the Senate filibuster, the faith-led Poor People's Campaign has announced it will lead a Moral Monday demonstration in the West Virginia senator's home state next week.

"It's time to march on his office," Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, said of Manchin, the Senate's most conservative Democrat, in an interview with Religion News Service. "It's time for people of all differences to stand together against him—we call it 'from the hollers in the mountains to the hood.'"

"Thousands upon thousands of people don't agree with [Manchin's] economic position, or his position on voting rights, or his position on the filibuster—and it's time for them to speak up," Barber added.

Pam Garrison, a co-chair of the West Virginia Poor People's Campaign, said she has watched Manchin "talk about compromise, and I wonder, what reality is he in? Is he that delusional, or does he think we're that stupid?"

"We are coming, and I'll tell you what—my fellow Americans are coming with me," said Garrison of next Monday's march. "We are in this together, and we're not taking 'no' for an answer.... We can do better. We deserve better."

Manchin's purported pursuit of bipartisan solutions—efforts opponents argue will bear little fruit with Republican colleagues led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the self-proclaimed "Grim Reaper"—has rankled progressives. He is the sole Senate Democrat to refuse to co-sponsor the For the People Act, a landmark bill to expand and protect voting rights supported by 79% of likely West Virginia voters. Manchin also stands staunchly opposed to ending the filibuster, a weapon that has historically been used to torpedo civil and voting rights legislation.

Some observers also bristled at what they perceived as the incongruity and tone-deafness of Manchin singing the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome" during a Joan Baez tribute at the Kennedy Center Honors Sunday night—the very same day the senator published an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail explaining why he will vote against the For the People Act.

In response, Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) tweeted that the piece "might as well be titled, 'Why I'll Vote to Preserve Jim Crow.'"

On Tuesday, Manchin held what he called a "productive" meeting with civil rights leaders. While the Black leaders—who included NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson, National Urban League President Marc Morial, and the Rev. Al Sharpton—stressed the importance of passing legislation to strengthen voting rights, Manchin left the meeting unmoved in his opposition to the For the People Act.

"I don't think anybody changed positions on that," he told The Hill.

While Johnson hailed the meeting as "robust and insightful" and "focused on finding common ground," Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) wasn't nearly as cordial, calling Manchin's response to the meeting "disrespectful" and his motivations "questionable."

While Manchin's chimeric quest for Senate unity has left some observers scratching their heads, others say that understanding his unrequited ardor for bipartisanship is as simple as following the money.

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group bankrolled by billionaire Charles Koch, has been pressuring Manchin to hold steadfast in his opposition to crucial Democratic agenda items. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce—the nation's largest lobbying group—has rewarded him and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), another filibuster preservationist who has broken with her party on more votes than any other senator save Manchin—with thousands of dollars in campaign contributions.

Progressives also worry that Manchin, who has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from fossil fuel interests in recent election cycles, could stymie legislative efforts to address the climate emergency.

Barber said he discussed issues including ending the filibuster and raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour—which Manchin also opposes—during a meeting with the senator earlier this year.

"We explained... why his defense of the filibuster was historically inaccurate and politically dangerous, and how his position against living wages was hurting over half of the workforce of West Virginia," Barber told Religion News Service. The reverend said he explained that Manchin's opposition to the For the People Act "was hurting not just Black people, but white people, brown people, and particularly poor and low-wealth people."


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