Activists with the Poor People's Campaign march in Washington, D.C.

Faith leaders, activists, and demonstrators take part in a march and demonstration at the Hart Senate Office Building on November 15, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images for MoveOn)

Poor People's Campaign to Manchin: 'We Do Not Quit Until We Win'

"One day he won't be a senator, but the people and the movement will always be here—and we will ultimately have justice," said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin may have proclaimed the Build Back Better Act "dead" and attempted to bury it for good, but members of the Poor People's Campaign made clear Thursday that they don't have the luxury of giving up on legislation that would slash poverty, combat the climate crisis, and lower sky-high child care and medicine costs.

"We do not quit until we win," Jean Evansmore, chair of the West Virginia Poor People's Campaign, said during a press conference in Manchin's home state.

"We cannot compromise the lives of our parents, grandparents, children, and neighbors."

Evansmore, a longtime anti-poverty activist who grew up in West Virginia's coal country, emphasized the positive impact the boosted Child Tax Credit (CTC) had on low-income families that previously struggled to feed their kids and keep the lights on.

But thanks in large part to Manchin's opposition to the program--which helped lift an estimated 50,000 West Virginia children out of poverty--the boosted CTC lapsed at the end of last year, abruptly cutting off hundreds of dollars in monthly payments to families and threatening to push millions back into destitution.

"A moral crime has been committed and continues to be inflicted on this state and our country by our sitting senator, Joe Manchin," Rev. Paul Dunn, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Charleston, West Virginia, said during Thursday's press conference.

Evansmore, Dunn, and other members and leaders of the Poor People's Campaign echoed that message in a letter sent Thursday to Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), condemning the Democratic senators for failing to do everything in their power to pass the Build Back Better agenda and voting rights legislation.

"As religious leaders and impacted people, we cannot compromise the lives of our parents, grandparents, children, and neighbors," the letter reads. "We hold the entire Senate responsible for this sinful refusal to act that is producing suffering. The party in power and the senators who could have used their power to do the right thing are especially guilty."

"We want to say to both of you: It is time to call the question," the letter continues. "It is time to publicly answer: which side are you on? It is time to go back and pass the full voting rights protection and expansion bills. It is time to go back, overcome the regressive filibuster, and pass the full $3 trillion Build Back Better Agenda (not reduced down to $1.7 trillion or what is being compromised now)."

In recent days, Democratic leaders have begun discussing potential paths forward for the Build Back Better package, which was slowly gutted over months of negotiations and eventually blocked by Manchin, who announced in a December appearance on Fox News that he would oppose the legislation.

"It's dead," Manchin told reporters last week.

But the Poor People's Campaign--well aware of the longstanding structural impediments to justice--said Thursday that it has no intention of letting Manchin's opposition deter them from organizing and mobilizing over the coming months in an effort to secure legislative and electoral victories.

"That's why we're coming to Washington, D.C. in mass on June 18, 2022 for a Mass Poor People's and Low-Wage Workers' Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to Polls, not for a day but for a declaration of an ongoing, committed moral movement to 1) build power; 2) shift the political narrative; and 3) make real policies to fully address poverty and low wealth from the bottom up," the campaign's letter declares.

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At Thursday's press conference in Charleston, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II--co-chair of the national Poor People's Campaign--said that "the movement for economic justice is growing and building."

"One day he won't be a senator," added Barber, referring to Manchin, "but the people and the movement will always be here--and we will ultimately have justice."

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