With less than a month to go until President-elect Joe Biden takes office, The Poor People’s Campaign has joined the Congressional Progressive Caucus in calling for a seven-part legislative agenda aimed at helping poor Americans amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The legislative proposals were unveiled on Monday night in a virtual town hall hosted by Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the caucus, and Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.
“An agenda that centers people will always win,” Jayapal said. “Donald Trump is both a symptom and a problem. Trump was elected because people in both parties lost faith in us, in the government, to stand up for regular folks.”
The seven planks of the proposal, called the People’s Agenda, are to: provide adequate COVID-19 relief, including $2,000 monthly stimulus checks and student debt cancellation; invest in a green infrastructure package that prioritizes clean renewable energy and provides jobs; ensure health care for everyone by expanding Medicare; defend and expand voting rights with a comprehensive voting rights bill; dismantle racism and white supremacy through policies like police demilitarization and immigration reform; end U.S. wars in Yemen and Afghanistan; and end corporate monopolies by expanding antitrust law and reforming the tax system.
“Everything here resonates with our deepest religious values to love our neighbors and lift from the bottom,” Barber said during the town hall.
Barber drew on scripture and referenced the Christmas season during his remarks, highlighting a lesser-known part of the holiday.
“One of the aspects of Christmas was mourning,” he said. “For as the scripture in Matthew 2 says, Rachel was mourning because her children were no more and she refused to be comforted.”
Barber said “we cannot be comforted” in the face of poverty and the pandemic.
“We cannot allow people to make us think that this is just about left and right and counter-opposing opinions,” he said. “No, this is about death. When we say health disparities, what we’re really saying is disparities in death, because people
Theoharis pointed to the solemnity and fear abounding this winter.
“This holiday season and the winter beyond it promise to be long and dark,” Theoharis said. “A portal to who knows where as temperatures drop, COVID-19 cases continue to rise, and poverty and homelessness are transformed into many more death certificates.
But, she added, “I follow the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, who said, ‘Only in the darkness can you see the stars.’”
If enacted, the legislative proposals in the People’s Agenda would erase student debt for more than three-quarters of borrowers and significantly narrow racial and gender wealth divides, according to a fact sheet published by the The Institute for Policy Studies, the Kairos Center, Repairers of the Breach, and the Poor People’s Campaign.
“We have some differences,” Barber said of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “But this is the kind of start we must have. Everything here needs to be done.”
The seven policy priorities outlined on Monday overlap with a more expansive 14-policy proposal published by the Poor People’s Campaign at the beginning of December.
Barber, Theoharis, and dozens of other leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign met with members of President-elect Biden’s domestic policy team last week to discuss the campaign’s 14-point plan. In a news conference following the meeting, Barber said that efforts to heal the nation will be morally indefensible if the incoming administration does not put ending poverty at the center of its agenda. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris campaigned on a $15 federal minimum wage and student loan forgiveness, which are included in the Poor People’s Campaign proposal.
Barber’s Moral Mondays, which have been on pause since late November, will draw heavily on the 14 policy priorities once they resume in January, according to a spokeswoman for Repairers of the Breach.