Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

As we head deeper into a divisive election season—and as we remember Dr. King—it’s worth remembering that our real enemy is injustice, not each other. (Photo: Shutterstock)

As we head deeper into a divisive election season—and as we remember Dr. King—it’s worth remembering that our real enemy is injustice, not each other. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Learning from King’s Last Campaign

Before he died, Martin Luther King, Jr. joined a campaign to unify working people of all races. Today, nothing could be more powerful.

Jessicah Pierre

 by OtherWords

As we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., it’s natural to remember his courageous advocacy for racial equity. But before he was assassinated, King had also begun to broaden his efforts to unify the around economic justice.

That’s worth remembering today.

In December 1967, King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and other conveners laid out their vision for the first Poor People’s Campaign. Seeing how poverty cut across race and geography, these leaders built the campaign into a multiracial effort including African Americans, white Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans aimed at alleviating poverty for all.

Even at a time of stark partisan polarization, a majority of Americans support policies like raising the minimum wage—while opposing things like the Trump administration’s draconian cuts to federal nutrition assistance programs.

The goal was to lead a massive protest in Washington D.C. demanding that Congress prioritize a massive anti-poverty package that included, among other things, a commitment to full employment, a guaranteed annual income, and more low-income housing. And they wanted to pay for it by ending the Vietnam War.

“We believe the highest patriotism demands the ending of the war,” King said, “and the opening of a bloodless war to final victory over racism and poverty.” Assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968 while organizing Black sanitation workers, King never made it to the Poor People’s March, but thousands did protest in Washington to honor King’s memory and to pursue his vision.

That vision remains to be realized. Today, 140 million Americans—over 40 percent of us—remain poor or low-income. As in King’s day, Black and brown Americans are especially impacted, but so are millions of poor whites.

Our country may be polarized by party. But the truth is, we have more in common to fight for than what divides us.

A December survey by the Center for American Progress (CAP) found that 52 percent of American voters across party lines reported experiencing a serious economic problem in the past year. This tracks with other research, including the Federal Reserve Board’s finding that 40 percent of Americans don’t have the money to cover a $400 emergency.

The same CAP survey shows that strong majorities—including 9 in 10 Democrats, 7 in 10 independents, and 6 in 10 Republicans—support government action to “reduce poverty by ensuring that all families have access to basic living standards like health care, food, and housing if their wages are too low or they can’t make ends meet.”

Even at a time of stark partisan polarization, a majority of Americans support policies like raising the minimum wage—while opposing things like the Trump administration’s draconian cuts to federal nutrition assistance programs.

King and the Poor People’s Campaign promoted a vision of unity. But it wasn’t a unity that avoided conflict—it was one where poor and low-income overcame their divisions to fight for economic justice together.

To revive that vision, a new Poor People’s Campaign has emerged to confront the interlocking evils of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, and militarism — and what they’re calling “the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.” Over the past two years, this campaign has organized communities from all over the country to build lasting power for poor and impacted people.

“Poor and low-wealth people are seeing the need to galvanize themselves around an agenda, not a party, not a person, but an agenda,” said Reverend William Barber, one of the new campaign’s leaders. “What happens if a movement is able to help people see how they’re being played against each other? You could reset the entire political calculus.”

As we head deeper into a divisive election season—and as we remember Dr. King—it’s worth remembering that our real enemy is injustice, not each other.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Jessicah Pierre

Jessicah Pierre is the inequality media specialist at the Institute for Policy Studies.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Political Malpractice': House Democrats' Bill Wouldn't Add Dental to Medicare Until 2028

"I don't want to see it drawn out to as far as the House has proposed," Sen. Bernie Sanders said during a recent press call.

Jake Johnson ·


'How Many More Deaths Must It Take?' Barbados Leader Rips Rich Nations in Fierce UN Speech

"How many more variants of Covid-19 must arrive, how many more, before a worldwide plan for vaccinations will be implemented?"

Jake Johnson ·


To Avert Debt Ceiling Calamity, Democrats Urged to Finally Kill the Filibuster

"The solution is to blow up the filibuster at least for debt limit votes, just as Mitch blew it up to pack the Supreme Court for his big donors."

Jake Johnson ·


Biden Decries 'Outrageous' Treatment of Haitians at Border—But Keeps Deporting Them

"I'm glad to see President Biden speak out about the mistreatment of Haitian asylum-seekers. But his administration's use of Title 42 to deny them the right to make an asylum claim is a much bigger issue."

Jessica Corbett ·


Global Peace Activists Warn of Dangers of US-Led Anti-China Pacts

"No to military alliances and preparation for catastrophic wars," anti-war campaigners from over a dozen nations write in a letter decrying the new AUKUS agreement. "Yes to peace, disarmament, justice, and the climate."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo