What's Next for the Poor People's Campaign? | Sojourners

What's Next for the Poor People's Campaign?

Poor People's March in Washington, D.C., in Washington, D.C. on May 14, 2018. Photo by Rebekah Fulton for Sojourners.

Two years ago this month, I marched to the U.S. Capitol with 25,000 people who had come to Washington, D.C., from every corner of the United States to relaunch the Poor People’s Campaign. The original campaign, a large coalition of Black, white, brown, Native American, and Asian American people that came to D.C. in 1968, was organized to finish the work of the civil rights movement by demanding economic rights for all Americans. Fifty years later, economic inequality was more extreme than it had been when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and many of the alliances that made the original campaign possible were fractured. Those of us who marched together on that hot June day promised one another we would do one thing: Go home to our communities and build a coalition to demand equal justice for all Americans.

This past weekend, the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival held our Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington virtually. Though we had planned to line Pennsylvania Avenue with the largest gathering of poor and marginalized people in this nation’s history, the coronavirus compelled us to reimagine our mobilization as a digital justice gathering back in March. We could not have known then how important it would be to come together now, but the global uprising for racial justice over the past few weeks has prepared millions of Americans to ask the question we have been discussing in communities across the nation for the past two years: How can we remake America so that “We the People” means all of us?

More than 2.5 million people joined us online for this past weekend’s mass gathering, and more than 300,000 sent our Moral Justice Jubilee Policy Platform to their congressional representatives. The three-and-half-hour program we shared was a beautiful celebration of the grassroots leadership I’ve witnessed in communities across America, and it was deeply encouraging to see a 100-fold increase in the crowd that united to support their demands as we rallied together in this critical moment.

The Poor People’s Campaign has shown me the wisdom of impacted people to address the problems we know too well. And it has taught me the incredible power of connecting across communities and issue areas to build power together. But we have not organized and mobilized together just to share our stories. We have said from the very beginning of our work together that our goal is to shift the moral narrative in this country. And we know that means changing who holds power.

We are not lifting up these policy solutions now because we believe they will pass Congress and our state legislatures this year. Many of them will not. We are building a movement that votes because we know the power of poor people to change the political calculus in this nation. In 2016, far more people who were eligible to vote did not vote than voted for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. A disproportionate number of those who were not able to vote or did not see how voting would benefit them were poor and low wealth. If we are able to engage just 10 percent of the inactive voters from 2016 this year, we can change the political possibilities in Washington, D.C., and state capitals across the country.

The Poor People’s Campaign does not endorse candidates, and we don’t need to. We know this nation has the resources to pay everyone living wages, guarantee health care for all, ensure affordable housing and clean water, and bring undocumented neighbors out of the shadows. If we make sure the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share and reallocate money from bloated military and police budgets, we can guarantee high quality, diverse public education and a livable planet for our children. We have made our platform clear, and we invite Republicans, Democrats, and Independents to explain to voters what they will do to embrace it now. We don’t need messiah candidates who promise to fix everything. We will vote together for those who have the humility to listen, and we will hold every elected official accountable.

The power of a moral fusion coalition in this nation is that when we vote together, we win. Too often we have been divided by cultural wedge issues, discouraged by the corruption of politics, or pushed out by voter suppression. But when fusion coalitions came together in the South during Reconstruction, they remade our state governments and amended the U.S. Constitution. When fusion coalitions joined civil rights and unions and welfare rights organizations in the 1960s, they ended Jim Crow, expanded voting rights, and transformed America’s immigration system.

As the cries for racial justice in our streets continue and the idols of white supremacy fall in our city squares, the Poor People’s Campaign is here to say that it’s time to vote together. It’s time to press forward together. It’s time to insist that America become the nation we’ve never yet been.