It’s been more than 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., warned us about the triple evils of Racism, extreme Materialism, or poverty, as some would say, and Militarism, or the war economy. He called for a Revolution of Values to address these societal failures. He also accused the U.S. government of being “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” as the U.S. waged war on Vietnam. Probably no one at the time could have imagined that 50 years later, things would actually be worse, not better, that the U.S. would have fallen far short of the goal of justice for all. Yet that is the case.
That is why people across the nation are now sounding the alarm for a Moral Revival, a movement to build up people power, to demand true racial and economic justice. And because we are now facing the serious threat of extreme climate change, a fourth issue that disproportionately affects the poor has been added—ecological devastation.
Actions to launch the Poor People’s Campaign have already started, but the official kick off will commence on Mother’s Day, May 13, followed by 40 days of sustained action in state capitals around the country. There are approximately 40 states on board right now. The campaign has been built around a set of fundamental principles, which in brief, include the following:
Moral revival is necessary to save our failing democracy; lifting and deepening the leadership of those most affected by systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation; dismantling unjust criminalization systems that exploit communities of color and the poor; transforming the “war economy” into a “peace economy” that values all humanity; equal treatment under the law is non-negotiable; poverty in the richest nation ever to exist will not be tolerated, nor will accepting the claim that the U.S. does not have the abundance of resources to overcome poverty; systemic racism that maintains economic oppression must be named, detailed, and exposed, while recognizing the role white supremacy has played in maintaining economic inequality; the distorted moral narrative promoted by religious extremists must be shifted from single issues such as gun rights, abortion, prayer in school, sexuality, to systemic injustices like how society treats the “least of these”; building people power and state based movements to transform the political and economic structures of our society as the model, movement not from above, but from below ; a non-partisan movement about right and wrong, not Democrat or Republican; and engagement in a season of sustained non-violent civil disobedience, recognizing the need to put our bodies on the line; violent tactics will not be tolerated.
An excellent fact sheet from Souls of Poor Folks Preliminary Report Dec. 2017 provides supporting information as to why this call for a moral revival of values is critical at this time. The full fact sheet and sources can be found on the Poor People’s Campaign website, but here are a few examples:
- There are fewer voting right in place today for people of color than 50 years ago when the Civil Rights Act was passed. Since 2010, 23 states have passed racist voter suppression laws.
- As of July 2017, 25 states have passed laws that preempt cities from passing their own local minimum wage laws,
- Since 1976, the criminalization of poverty has raised federal spending on prison tenfold to $7.5 billion a year. The number of state and federal inmates grew from 188,000 in 1968 to nearly 5 million in 2015. Racial profiling, biased sentencing, and policing practices have expanded the share of inmates who are people of color from less than half in 1978 to 66% in 2015.
- Federal spending on immigration, deportations, and the border has gone from $2 billion in 1976 to $17 billion in 2015, with 10 times more deportations.
- As of 2016, there are 40.6 million people living below the federal poverty line and of these, nearly three-quarters are women and children. There has been a 60% rise in poverty since 1968.
- Poverty is still disproportionately impacting people of color. The poverty rate for white people is 8.8%, 22% for African Americans, 19.4% for Latinos, and 26.2% for Native Americans.
Jobs, Income, Wealth
- From 1973–2013, productivity went up 74.4%, but hourly compensation only went up 9.2%.
- In 2017, 3 individuals had a combined wealth of $248.5 billion, the same amount of wealth as the bottom 50% of U.S. households, or 160 million people. Meanwhile, the bottom 38% of American households have 0 net worth.
War Economy and Militarism
- The cumulative costs of the US wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and post 9/11 Veterans Care and homeland Security from 2001–2018 are estimated at $5.6 trillion.
- At height of the Viet Nam War, military spending was $354 billion, today it is nearly twice that at $635 billion. 53 cents out of every discretionary tax dollar goes directly to the military.
- Pollution caused an estimated 9 million premature deaths in 2015 worldwide. Water pollution alone kills 1.8 million a year around the world.
- The U.S. is the largest producer of oil and natural gas in the world. Between 2010 and 2015, there were more than 3300 incidents of crude oil and liquefied natural gas leaks or ruptures on U.S. pipelines.
- At least 4 million families with children are being exposed to high levels of lead from drinking water and other sources.
- A 2015 EPA analysis found that the population within three miles of highly contaminated “Superfund” sites was 45.7% non-white.
We encourage you to get involved in your state by going to www.poorpeoplescampaign.org and fill out the pledge form. Let them know in the comment section that you want to be connected to your state campaign. Individuals join to be part of the collective, not to represent an organization. But organizations, such as unions, are encouraged to spread the word to their membership. You can make a huge contribution now by getting the word out to friends, family, and colleagues and by passing resolutions to support this timely campaign. Pledge cards can be downloaded from the website and distributed.
As a resolution from the San Francisco Labor Council states, “This campaign has the potential to create a significant fight-back to the assaults by the rich.” Labor has a rich tradition of fighting for racial and economic justice. Let’s keep that tradition going. Get involved today.