Press release: Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

For Immediate Release: December 6, 2017

Contact: Isabel Urbano, Isabel.Urbano@berlinrosen.com

New Hampshire Groups to Join Tens of Thousands Nationwide in Call for Moral Revival of America

Historic Wave of Non-Violent Civil Disobedience to Hit New Hampshire Capitol

Modern-Day Poor People’s Campaign Launches to Unite Poor, Disenfranchised, Clergy in Challenge to Systemic Racism, Poverty, War Economy, Ecological Devastation, Distorted National Morality

Pembroke, N.H.– Thousands of poor and disenfranchised people, clergy and moral leaders in New Hampshire will engage in direct action at the state capitol next spring as part of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, joining tens of thousands nationwide in a six-week protest highlighted by one of the largest waves of civil disobedience in U.S. history, organizers announced Monday. The announcement comes 50 years to the day after Dr. Martin Luther King and others called for the original Poor People’s Campaign.

Challenging the enmeshed evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and America’s distorted national morality, organizers said Monday they will draw on the unfinished work of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, reigniting the effort led by civil rights organizations, labor, tenant unions, farm workers, Native American elders and grassroots organizers to foster a moral revolution of values.

Expected to be a multi-year effort, The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival will intensify starting Mother’s Day with six weeks of direct action and civil disobedience across at least 25 states, including New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia, leading up to a mass mobilization at the U.S. Capitol June 21. Each week will focus on a different injustice, beginning with child poverty, and will include specific policy goals and a voter education program to advance a moral agenda at the state and federal levels.

The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is co-organized by Repairers of the Breach, a social justice organization founded by the Rev. Barber; the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary; and scores of local and national grassroots groups across the country, including the NH Council of Churches, American Friends Service Committee-NH, NAACP Manchester Branch, Granite State Organizing Project, NH United Church of Christ Economic Justice Mission Group, Unitarian Universalist Action NH and NH Peace Action.

On Monday, leaders of nearly half a dozen major denominations announced their organizations are endorsing the movement, including the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Presbyterian Church (USA), Union of Reform Judaism, United Church of Christ, and Unitarian Universalist Association.

Coalitions have formed in more than 30 states to challenge extremism locally and at the federal level and to demand a moral agenda for the common good. From the Bronx to the Texas border and from Appalachia to Alabama, coalition members will hold voter education workshops and train grassroots leaders and activists in direct action, nonviolent civil disobedience and movement building in 2018.

“Even before the election of Donald Trump, the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the country’s distorted national morality were tearing apart the social fabric in America,” said the Rev. Liz Theoharis, the campaign’s co-chair. “But with extremists who stand against voting rights, living wages, health care and immigration reform gaining even more influence today in Washington and in statehouses across the country, the need for this campaign is more urgent than ever.”

The Rev. William Barber II, campaign co-chair, added: “We must transform the moral narrative in this country. We went through the most expensive presidential campaign in U.S. history in 2016 without a single serious discussion of poverty and systemic racism. Now we are witnessing an emboldened attack on the poor and an exacerbation of systemic racism, ecological devastation and the war economy that demands a response. Black, white, brown red, yellow, young old, male, female, gay, straight, Christian, Muslim, Jewish and those not of religion but with deep moral convictions must build a long-term, agenda-based movement rooted in non-violent direct action and voter mobilization. This is not about saving any party, but about saving the soul of America.”

Campaign leaders also announced Monday they will release a report next year auditing the past 50 years of systemic racism, poverty, militarism and ecological devastation in America. The report, conducted by the Institute for Policy Studies, will be based on extensive interviews and testimony from experts and poor and marginalized people from communities across the country. The study is modeled after the landmark 1968 Kerner Commission report that documented how systemic racism in housing and urban development policies contributed to the riots in Los Angeles, Chicago, Newark, Detroit and other cities earlier that decade.

A preliminary analysis released Monday outlines how the conditions that motivated the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign have worsened over the past 50 years, making the need for a new moral movement more urgent than ever. The preliminary report details the acceleration of economic inequality; the emergence of new policies like voter suppression laws and mass incarceration that further entrench systemic racism in America; the growing imbalance in federal discretionary spending on the military relative to social programs; and the intensification of racial and income disparities in access to clean air and water and exposure to environmental hazards.

“The data reveal just how deeply entwined are the problems of racism, poverty, militarism and ecological devastation,” said Sarah Anderson, editor of the preliminary IPS report. “To combat any one of these problems, we need to break down issue silos and unite Americans behind a broad agenda for transformative change.”

Despite real political wins in 1968 and beyond, the original Poor People’s Campaign was tragically cut short, both by Dr. King’s assassination and by the subversion of the coalition that sustained it. Still, the original vision and many of its followers did not go away. The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is the product of a decade of organizing by grassroots groups, religious leaders and others to end systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation. The campaign names so-called Christian nationalism as a threat to a shared moral agenda and focuses on the Southern and Midwestern states that have been exploited by the alliance of the Southern Strategy and the Religious Right. Its architects aim to build a broad and deep national moral movement – rooted in the leadership of poor people and reflecting the great moral teachings – to unite our country from the bottom up. And its participants will be of every of every race, sex, creed, sexuality and party.

“Fifty years ago, Dr. King invited me to help bring three school buses full of black and white people across the crooked roads of Appalachia to Washington, D.C.,” said civil rights attorney Al McSurely, who is a member of the national steering committee for the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. “This time, we have the benefit of years of experience in moral fusion organizing, thousands of better lawyers, Dr. King’s legacy and the prophetic, bulldog leadership of Drs. Liz Theoharis and William J. Barber II.”

The campaign announcement will conclude Monday evening with a mass meeting and movement song gathering at the Howard Theater in Washington, DC, organized by Gina Belafonte, leader of the social justice organization Sankofa and daughter of Harry Belafonte. The event will feature performances from artists including Sweet Honey in the Rock, Aloe Blacc, Yara Allen and Maxwell. The entire show will be streamed live on Ben & Jerry’s Facebook and YouTube pages. As it unfolds, the movement will draw on art, music and religious traditions to challenge the dominant narrative that blames poor people for poverty.

Starting last summer, the Revs. Theoharis and Barber held regional training meetings and mass services with community and religious leaders across 15 states to lay the groundwork for the announcement of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. The tour has drawn thousands of supporters to meetings stretching from the border wall outside El Paso, Texas, to Stone Temple Baptist Church in Chicago, Ill., to a Native American longhouse in Seattle, Wash., to Theodore Parker Unitarian Church in Roxbury, Mass.

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