Poor People’s Campaign mobilizing massive movement vote for 2024 and beyond
On June 29 the Poor People's Campaign will lead another Mass March on Washington in the nation's capital as it campaigns to register up to 18 million new low income and poor voters.

WASHINGTON—The Poor People’s Campaign will conduct a mass march on Washington, June 29, and a mass mobilization of “7,000 activists so we can reach 15-18 million people from now through Election Day, to get them to vote, and beyond,” co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, the Rev. William Barber II says.

Ties between the massive civil rights and economic justice organization and the labor movement will become even stronger than they are now since the goals of the Poor People’s Campaign and the AFL-CIO are similar.

“This is not a political vote, this is a movement vote,” Barber declared at the April 29 D.C. press conference. “This is hard work, but necessary work, and we’ll do it from the bottom up. Tell your folk to come out because it is high time to hear from impacted voters.”

But the campaign will not just concentrate solely on this year’s presidential race. Instead, it will push candidates on key issues: workers rights, women’s rights, voting rights, raising the minimum wage to be a living wage, quality public schools, affordable health care for all, shifting spending from the military to domestic needs and combating the scourge of hate in the U.S., especially from right-wing white nationalist Christian preachers.

After all, Barber pointed out, the last time lawmakers voted on raising the federal minimum wage, which has been at $7.25 an hour for 15 years, 57 senators—all the Republicans plus seven Democrats–voted it down.

“Workers’ rights, civil rights, and human rights are on the ballot this election,” said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond, reaffirming the federation’s long support for the Poor People’s Campaign.

“Voters will decide: Do we want to stay the course and keep on this path toward a more compassionate government or revert to this morally bankrupt nation?

“The American labor movement is committed to registering and mobilizing union members and union families around the mass mobilization on June 29. We’re going to elect lawmakers who will advocate for workers and poor people to elect leaders who will put people over profits, protect our democracy, and advance worker and civil and human rights.”

Barber also warned that candidates who want to gain the support of the millions of poor and low-wealth people in the U.S. will have to outline not just what they did, “but what they plan to do in their first 50 days” in office.

Must bend the arc

“We are gathered as advocates, activists, moral leaders, and organizers who believe we must bend the arc of history towards justice,” added co-chair, the Rev. Liz Theoharis, paraphrasing the venerated civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“We are saying yes to voting rights, to workers’ rights, to women’s rights, to LGBT rights, and to lifting from the bottom so that people can thrive, and not just survive.” And on a video the campaign released on social media, Theoharis states: “Economic justice and saving our democracy are deeply connected.”

If just one-fifth of the poor and low-wealth people who are registered to vote but did not do so in the presidential election four years ago hit the polls this November, they will change the direction of the country, the two added.

The campaign won’t be alone as advocates for change. They’ll have the help from the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees, and other unions, plus Common Cause and Protestant, Jewish, Hindu, and Islamic faith leaders, all of whom spoke.

“We demand an end to systemic injustice and to the scourge of economic injustice,” said Redmond.

“We’re adding this to our political plans,” Redmond told People’s World in a brief interview as he was leaving. “We’re going to activate and woo these low-wage workers.” Next week the federation’s Executive Council will map out details of its political mobilization, he added.

“What is at stake in this election is our democracy, our economy, and our future,” SEIU Vice President Rocio Saenz told the audience. “We’re going to organize, mobilize, and project our power.”

SEIU, he added, will demand support that “all jobs should be good jobs, with family-sustaining wages with health care, and that there be no more distracting attacks on immigrants nor” emphasis on “divisive social issues.”

The campaign has a track record of mobilizing poor and low-wealth people since it began as Moral Mondays marches in Barber’s home state, North Carolina.

The Moral Mondays marches targeted North Carolina’s heavily gerrymandered, heavily Republican legislature revoking voting rights from Blacks, the poor, students, workers, women, and the differently abled. The crowds were in the tens of thousands through the streets of the state capital of Raleigh.

But Barber once said that the Republican state legislative majority “took 45 minutes” to yank access to the ballot after the right-wing Republican-named U.S. Supreme Court majority gutted the key sections of the Voting Rights Act.

When he sought the presidency four years ago, Democrat Joe Biden spoke—and listened—to Poor People’s campaigners at a church in North Carolina. Since then Biden himself has not met with representatives of the Poor People’s campaign but has sent aides to meet with them.

Fourth leading cause of death

And Barber noted, again, that poverty, the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S., did not come up at all in presidential campaign debates during recent primaries or between Biden and then-Republican President Donald Trump. The Poor People’s Campaign and the AFL-CIO say they intend to change that this time around.

Speakers told the D.C. gathering they’ve had trouble surviving.

For example, William Cail, a personal care assistant from Massachusetts and a Service Employees member, said his SEIU1199 affiliate just won a new three-year contract. But for workers like him, its raises still aren’t enough to live on in the high-income high-cost Bay State.

And Democratic Gov. Maura Healey wants to pay subsidies to corporations, he added afterwards, while cutting thousands of people needing personal care—the elderly, children, and disabled—from the state rolls. That would throw hundreds of personal care assistants into either vastly reduced hours or no work at all, he said.

And Virginia Case Solomon, now president of Common Cause, told the crowd, “I was a teenaged mom who needed help from WIC (the federal Women, Infants, and Children’s feeding program) and food stamps. Everybody should have such help and such access to services” as the Poor People’s Campaign advocates, among other items on its agenda.

The campaign will demand that politicians and the powers that be put the issue of eradicating poverty and reducing wealth inequality in the richest nation in the world at the top of the national agenda, said the Revs. Barber and Theoharis.

“There’s not a state in the union without at least 30% of its voters who are poor and low-wage,” Barber told the packed crowd in a National Press Club meeting room. That includes all the swing states in the last presidential election four years ago.

In each state, the number of registered—but poor and low-wealth—voters who did not vote exceeded the margins Democratic presidential nominee Biden gained over Republican incumbent Trump.

Barber ticked many of the states off, with the numbers, including Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Michigan. Barber added his home, North Carolina, which Trump narrowly won.

Biden and Trump will face off again this November, barring unexpected developments that could upend the close race between the two.

For Biden, the unexpected development would be massive alienation of key Democratic voting blocs over his support of Israel’s war on Gaza.

For Trump, the unexpected development would be a conviction and possibly a prison sentence in any of the four criminal and civil trials he faces.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.