Rev. Barber is ready to mobilize beyond a Juneteenth rally


by Hamil R. Harris

For New Pittsburgh Courier

(—In June 1968, the disciples of the late Dr.   Martin Luther King Jr. took over Washington DC in a Poor People’s march and campaign with thousands of signs calling for an end of segregation, voting rights, and decent wages for all people.

Fifty-four years later, a new crowd of thousands walked up Pennsylvania Avenue and stood on stage with the US Capitol in the background. They had signs that read: “We are the 140 million poor and low-wage people..We won’t be silent anymore…Forward Together.”

And while King was assassinated in Memphis on April 4th, 1968, fighting for garbage workers, Rev. William Barber, a North Carolinian, surrounded by a cadre of male and female leaders, came to Washington DC on Saturday, June 18, to warn Democrats and Republican lawmakers that the new chapter of the poor people’s campaign is far from over.

“From here, we only intensify, and we say to America, you have two years,” Barber boomed, “two years to do some fundamental changes in living raises and raising childhood income tax credit and health care, or we will be back in every street and backroad in America.”

Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis are co-chairs of The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. For the last four years, their primary effort has been to organize leaders across the country instead of star-studied events in Washington DC.

The campaign has 40 state coordinating committees and is supported by more than 170 mobilizing partners, more than 20 religious and denominational bodies, and a growing “ Prophetic Counsel” of more than 2,500 clerics that organized Mass Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March.

One of the speakers at the march was Rukiye Abdul-Mutakallim, a Cincinnati, Ohio activist who came to Washington DC with a bus load of activists who are all part of her organization—called The Musketeer Association.

Even though Rukiye’s son was killed in the streets of Cincinnati, She forgave the boys who did it, and since then, she’s been working to end violence in her community.

“Our mission is to save the three B’s babies, butterflies, and Bees,” said Abdul-Mutakalim as she loaded up the vans and prepared to return home.“We will vote them out if they don’t change these laws.”

There were dozens and dozens of speakers who each had a minute to talk. But the cry of one young lady stood out on stage when she said, “I am tired of donating plasma because I don’t have the money to meet my basic needs.”

Among those in the crowd were Rev . Andrew Wilks and Rev. Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes, co-pastors of Double Love Experience in Brooklyn, New York.

Andrew Wilks said, “I wanted to come here because people are here from every state saying one message: We have a right to live, and we want the White House to act so that we can finally deal with poverty once and for all.”

In terms of going forward, Barber said in an interview after the event, “the people are ready, we have mobilized to this point, and now we organize forward. We have seven things that we have to do.”

Barber was referring to the Seven Steps Before Midterms,” a group of demands released by the Poor People’s campaign. They include:

  • We demand that every member of Congress publicly acknowledge the reality and pain of 140 million poor and low-wealth people—including 43 percent of our entire population and 52 percent of our children, who have died at a rate 2 to 5 times higher during this pandemic, and 250,000 of whom died from poverty and inequality every year—and recognize a moral crisis that must be corrected, reckoned with, and repaired. This is an emergency, and we need emergency action now to redress these injuries.
  • We demand every member of Congress commit to creating and supporting legislation that reflects the Third Reconstruction Agenda developed by poor and low-wage communities. No action available to this Congress to relieve this injury and protect our democracy should be taken off the table—no matter how close we are to an election.
  • We demand a White House Poverty Summit with President Biden to allow this administration to meet with a delegation of poor and low-wealth people, religious leaders, and economists and commit to an Executive Action Plan to Eliminate Poverty in 2022.
  • We declare that this Campaign will engage in massive mobilization and outreach through every means available to us—by visits, letters, petitions, candidate forums, and phone calls—advocating for our current representatives to take action now to address the needs of 140 million poor and low wealth people in this country.
  • We pledge to return to Washington D.C. in September 2022 to join 5,000 poor and low-wealth people and religious leaders, along with 100 economists, in nonviolent moral direct action in our next step of declaration and notification of these demands.
  • This Campaign announces its launch of a nationwide effort for the next 143 days to register and educate poor and low-income communities to vote in every election for candidates who commit to a Third Reconstruction Agenda to address poverty and low wealth from the bottom up. We must vote in historic numbers for our ancestors, for our children, and for the generations to come whose lives and planet are under threat today.
  • We declare that we are a movement that votes. We call on all poor and low-wealth people to march in mass assembly from here to the polls this November and to use your vote to make your voices heard! We will expand the “we” included in “we the people” and fight with every tool we have to ensure no voice is excluded from this democracy, no vote is denied, and no cry for justice rising from this moral fusion movement is unrepresented at the ballot box.

In November 1967, Dr. King and his staff of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) met and decided to launch a Poor People’s Campaign to highlight the many problems facing the poor regardless of color. The campaign would lead to a Poor People’s March and a meeting the movement leaders had with President Lyndon Johnson.

Near the end of the march, Barber said that leaders of the Poor People’s campaign are still waiting to meet with President Joseph Biden, and this effort is far from over.

Dr. Cornel West hugged a group of small children as he left the stage. Then he reflected on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy, and leaders of the 1960s

.“We have to be courageous visionaries and willing to serve the least of these,” West said. “The entertainers, the preachers, the politicians.”

Barber went on to say in the interview, “Our movement is never going to lack in intensity, we keep moving, and we keep building. Now the people have spoken, we did not speak for them; some said over 150,000 people were on Pennsylvania Avenue, plus millions online.”

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Rev. Barber is ready to mobilize beyond a Juneteenth rally