Why Activists Have Revived MLK's 'Poor People's Campaign' 50 Years Later
They're calling for increased voting rights and immigrant protections, among other demands.
It’s been half a century since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but the reverend and civil rights leader's radical fight to eradicate poverty in the United States — his main focus in the last year of his life — marches on.
Activists and faith leaders have taken up King’s mantle, reviving the “Poor People’s Campaign” he started in 1968 with a modern outlook and building off the movement to end system racism, poverty, and war.
Calling for an end to voter suppression, improvements to the country’s immigration system, and tribal recognition for Native Americans, among other demands, the “Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival” officially launched nationwide Sunday.
Take Action: Be the Generation to End Extreme Poverty
Workers, civil rights activists, and faith leaders will take to the streets in Washington, DC, and state capitals across the US on Monday and call on US leaders to take action to stem poverty and inequality. It’s the first step in 40 days of planned direct action.
50 years ago the #PoorPeoplesCampaign campaign arrived in DC. They came by bus, mule cart, on foot; anyway they could. We walk in their footsteps and stand on the shoulders of those elders from 1968. We still sing, 50 years on, 🎶 EVERYBODY’S GOT A RIGHT TO LIVE! 🎶 pic.twitter.com/YOgVJX9KTr— Poor People's Campaign (@UniteThePoor) May 12, 2018
"We understand that in order to change things we have to do the rallies, we have to do organizing, we have to do voter mobilization, we have to engage in civil disobedience,” Rev. William Barber, national co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, told NPR.
“People who are poor and people who are homeless shouldn’t be shamed,” Nijmie Dzurinko, an organizer in West Philadelphia, told Radio Times. “It’s actually a shame of the system, which exists in the richest country in the world.”
The movement comes after years of stagnant anti-poverty efforts. In the 50 years since the first Poor People’s Campaign, domestic poverty in the United States has remained largely unchanged.
In 1968, 13% of Americans lived below the poverty line, including 32% of black people. In 2018, that number has dipped only marginally, to 12.7% and 22%, respectively, The Conversation reports.
“[Poverty] affects people across all races, nationalities, ethnicities, geographies, genders, sexualities, ages, and religions,” national co-chair Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis told The Nation.
But organizers have a tangible roadmap for addressing this persistent issue. In April, on the anniversary of Dr. King’s famous “silence is betrayal” speech, the Poor People's Campaign released a list of more than 30 demands that range from banning assault rifles to ensuring equity in education.
Achieving these demands will be an uphill battle, but organizers are hopeful that the movement is already taking hold.
“I think something big is happening, and we need everyone to be a part of it,” Theoharis said.
Over the next 40 days, the campaign will feature mobilizations in front of 25-30 statehouses nationwide — calling for higher wages and changes to voting rights, among other changes — and culminate in a larger action in Washington, DC, in June. Individuals are able to join the campaign or donate to the cause online.
Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and ending extreme poverty is goal number one. You can join and call on young people to “Be the Generation” to end extreme poverty here.