By Labor Fightback Network
The Labor Fightback Network urges all our readers to participate in the Poor Peoples Campaign (PPC). Visit the PPC website to sign up for events.
Inspired by the PPC of 1968 that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was working on at the time he was assassinated, it focuses on the three issues he raised in 1968: poverty, racism, and, militarism, and adds an issue not as central in the 1960s: climate change and environmental degradation. The 1968 campaign was made up of a broad multiracial coalition of organizations committed to mutual support for each other’s issues. It encouraged participants to see their common ground and identify common enemies and obstacles. Mass protest and non-violent civil disobedience, as practiced in the Civil Rights Movement, were its central tactics. This included including the building of a massive temporary tent city in Washington, DC, to demonstrate the impact of poverty in the US.
The new PPC proposes to be an ongoing movement. Its current focus is on a 40-day program of demonstrations, civil disobedience actions, teach-ins, and religious services starting on Mothers Day (May 13) and culminating in a mass demonstration in Washington DC on June 23. Each of the 6 weeks will feature a different set of issues:
Week 1—May 13–19: Somebody is Hurting Our People and It’s Gone on Far Too Long—Women, Youth, the Disabled, and Children in Poverty and the Right to Education
Week 2—May 20–26: Connecting Systemic Racism and Economic Justice—Voting Rights and Just Immigration
Week 3—May 27–June 2: Veterans, Our War Economy, and Militarism
Week 4—June 3–9: The Right to Health – Ecology, Justice and Health—Water, Extreme Extraction, Climate Change, Health Care
Week 5—June 10–16: Everybody’s Got a Right to Live—Living Wages, Guaranteed Income, Housing and Social Services
Week 6—June 17–23: A New and Unsettling Force Challenging Our Nation’s Distorted Moral Narrative—A Fusion Movement Rising Up
Each Monday during this period, starting with May 14, will feature protests and CD actions in up to 40 state capitols thus far. The goal is that a lasting movement committed to fundamental change, with both local and national structures, will grow out of these actions.
The central organizer of the new PPC is the Rev. William Barber, the progressive Black minister largely responsible for leading the North Carolina Moral Monday protests, which the Labor Fightback Network has long supported. Rev. Barber reflected the concerns of many that, despite efforts made to address the issues of poverty, racism, and militarism throughout the last 50 years, in many ways conditions are worse than they were in 1968, with the added concerns of climate change and the growing awareness of environmental racism. In conjunction with other leaders of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice, a progressive religious think-tank and organizing space, Barber decided not just to commemorate Rev. King’s work, but to revive it as an active movement using similar tactics. In preparation for the campaign, the Kairos Center, the Institute for Policy Studies, and Barber’s organization Repairers of the Breach, have published an extensive report documenting how income inequality, racism, militarism and attacks on the environment have harmed people in the US and throughout the world. The report offers both objective data and personal testimony and provides a strong political and economic analysis directly critical of capitalism and placing the blame directly on the US ruling class. In keeping with its religious inspiration, the report—and the campaign itself—emphasizes the need for a moral revival, arguing that a movement needs to arise that is not focused on electoral politics with its shallow definitions of right and left, but on right and wrong—what is right or wrong for the vast majority of working class and poor people. Grounded in its moral preference for the needs of the majority, it is explicitly pro-labor and multicultural.
Why do we feel so strongly that this campaign is one of the most important and promising developments in a very long time?
First, the PPC is truly inclusive. Its “fusion” approach seeks to unite all the various victims of capitalism across the most critical divide of our time: race. It fully acknowledges that race is the major means used to divide US Americans, urging us to overcome these divisions by working together against common enemies. While this has long been the approach of the progressive wings of organized labor, it has not been as supported by a lot of social movements in recent years. Often the issues of class and race are counterpoised. Many activists today view class as a distraction from the central issue of racism, and, raising class issues is often seen as a way to let working class white people off the hook for racism. By holding up poverty, racism, militarism, and environmental attacks simultaneously, the PPC does not counterpoise these issues and offers various points of entry to activists committed to overcoming all of them. The campaign promotes the organized labor movement, raises the need for single-payer healthcare and affordable housing, and supports full rights for immigrants. It defends the rights of women and LGBTQ communities, thus distancing itself from conservative religious groups. While led primarily by Christian clergy, it is multi-faith in its orientation.
Second, the PPC is projecting political independence. It is not calling specifically for independent electoral politics. However, it explicitly calls out capitalism and the US ruling class as the primary sources and enforcers of the status quo. Regardless of the electoral views of its leaders, some of whom do participate in mainstream politics, the campaign as a whole does not want to be identified with any party or politician and is willing to criticize any politician on the basis of their specific actions. Speakers at PPC organizing rallies have openly criticized Democrats and even the Democratic Party itself, not only Republican politicians. This is consistent with our position that policy reforms are won by mass pressure on elected officials, not by giving up our power to the parties that do not represent our interests as workers. To document its independence, the campaign is not allowing politicians to speak at events or accepting direct funding from them.
Third, the PPC wants to be ongoing mass movement. Lasting movements need a clear vision of what is necessary—a vision with a broad appeal to lots of people—and a leadership that does not encourage or allow others to water down or divert its vision. So far, the PPC appears to model this. While the four major areas of its focus encompass many different issues, the PPC is not presenting a proverbial “laundry list” of demands, a common approach that often serves to exclude those who disagree with some demands or do not want to prioritize them equally. One can oppose poverty, racism, militarism, and environmental degradation from many different perspectives without having to agree on details. With its emphasis on morality, the PPC cuts across partisanship, ideology, and academic theory to appeal to the common value of wanting a better life for ones own family and communities.
We believe the PPC’s approach is consistent with our own views on what is necessary to build a mass movement. A movement, though, is only as effective as the people who build it. Sign up now.