Advocates dance during a Poor People's Campaign event in Washington, D.C.

Advocates dance during a Poor People's Campaign event in Washington, D.C. on June 19, 2023.

(Photo: Poor People's Campaign/Twitter)

Coalition Convenes in DC to Fight 'American Death Sentence' of Poverty

"Until our nation's leaders invest the great riches of this nation in ensuring equal justice for all, beginning with the poor and low-wealth of this nation, we cannot be silent," said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber.

Organizers and members of the Poor People's Campaign convened in the U.S. capital on Monday with a message for the leaders of the wealthiest nation on the planet: Poverty is an "American death sentence," and the refusal to eradicate it is "policy murder."

“Today, poverty is the fourth leading cause of death nationwide," said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, citing an analysis published in April.

The lead author of that analysis, David Brady of the University of California, Riverside, was among the experts who took part in a roundtable discussion on Monday to kick off the Poor People's Campaign Moral Poverty Action Congress, a three-day event aimed at ramping up pressure on lawmakers to do everything in their power to curb poverty in the U.S.

“Poverty is bad for your health and associated with nearly every negative health outcome," Brady said Monday, arguing that placing poverty fourth on the list of leading causes of death in the U.S.—behind heart disease, cancer, and smoking—is "probably conservative."

The multi-day event comes after state and federal lawmakers have spent recent months taking steps that advocates fear will exacerbate the nation's poverty crisis, from terminating pandemic-era relief measures such as food benefit expansions and the boosted Child Tax Credit to throwing more than a million people off Medicaid and planning fresh attacks on Social Security.

“What does it say about the greatest country on Earth, the land of the greatest opportunities, if we know what we need to do to address the problem, but only do it periodically for limited amounts of time?" Valerie Wilson of the Economic Policy Institute asked during Monday's panel discussion.

Joyce Kendrick of the Ohio Poor People's Campaign, one of the hundreds of people from more than 30 states who traveled to Washington, D.C. for the three days of action, said that "with pandemic aid expired, any gains I've made have been reversed."

"I'm back to having to choose between paying for healthcare and car repairs, or between putting food on the table and seeing a dentist," Kendrick said. "That's why I've joined the Poor People's Campaign—a movement led by people like me, impacted by policies that harm the poor in order to help the wealthy."

Watch Monday's event:

On Tuesday, according to organizers, members of the Poor People's Campaign are planning to visit House and Senate lawmakers to urge them to take action to slash poverty, which impacts tens of millions of people in the U.S.

“Given the abundance that exists in this country and the fundamental dignity inherent to all humanity, every person in this nation has the right to demand dignified jobs and living wages, housing, education, healthcare, and welfare," said Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign. "But the truth is that millions of Americans are denied those fundamental rights, and thousands are dying as a result."

Following the Tuesday meetings with lawmakers, campaigners will lead a funeral procession to the U.S. Capitol to call attention to poverty's deadly effects.

The next day, the Poor People's Campaign will support Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) as they reintroduce a resolution calling for a "Third Reconstruction" that would end poverty, protect and expand voting rights, and ensure that healthcare, housing, education, clean water, and other necessities are guaranteed to all.

"There is a lie of scarcity, that we don't know what to do avoid poverty, that it's peoples' bad choices that lead to poverty," Barber said Monday. "Or the lie that we don't have the moral capacity to end it. We have all of that. But the issue is: Are we going to do it?"

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