Reflections on the Poor People’s Congress

In June I attended  the Poor People’s Moral Action Congress in Washington DC where 1,000 poor people gathered from 40 states. The Congress is part of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, and it was emotional for me for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, the original Poor People’s Campaign was being organized by Dr Martin Luther King shortly before his death in 1968, and even though I was only nine at the time of his murder, I was old enough to understand how important Dr King was to all of us. He is one of my heroes, so it’s hard to describe with words what being a part of this campaign means to me. 

At times, my health kept me from fully participating in the Campaign, including last year’s action in DC. I was determined that I would be there this time around. It was heartening and also emotional to meet people from around the country who, like me, know what it’s like to live in poverty and are determined to do something about it; to stand against “the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and ecological devastation.” 

The first day there was a presidential candidates forum. Nine of the 2020 Democratic candidates for president showed up including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Joe Biden. Each took questions from folks who are impacted by poverty, and each gave answers on what they wanted to do, but this wasn’t about endorsements or photo-ops. This was about them listening to us, a small portion of the 140 million poor people in this country. 

The highlight of day two for me was a meeting to reestablish the National Union of the Homeless. The Union was founded in 1985 and up until 1993 was a force to be reckoned with. It had 20 local unions and 15,000 members. Now it’s reforming, and with the Poor People’s Campaign, will again be a force.  On day three we all met outside early in the morning to say prayers and send folks off to the Capital to present the Moral Budget, which lists our demands. Members of Congress heard testimony from those who are impacted by interlocking injustices. There was also testimony by Poor People’s Campaign Co-chairs Dr William Barber and Dr Liz Theoharis. For the most part, members of Congress showed how truly out of touch with Americans they really are. One of the demands that were made during the Candidates forum was to have a debate on poverty, to which the nine candidates agreed to. As I said at the beginning this was a deeply moving three days. I come back to Boston ready to do the work it will take to change things. Join Us.

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.

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