Poor People’s Campaign steps up drive for ‘Third Reconstruction’
The California Poor People’s Campaign demanding their representatives embrace the agenda reflected in the Third Reconstruction resolution to end poverty. Poor People's Campaign FB page.

WASHINGTON—Lark Yasmin, a soft-spoken single mother from Washington, D.C., put the entire plight of the nation’s 140 million poor and near-poor people into one pointed question:

“Has anyone ever thought that America is unbearably hard to live in because we are left to fend for ourselves without any support?”

The issues facing the poor and near poor “aren’t new and the (coronavirus) pandemic proved us right,” she added.

Yasmin was one of many speakers, both in D.C. and around the nation, at rallies and press conferences near more than 50 lawmakers’ offices from coast to coast, who again focused the nation’s—and, hopefully, legislators’—eyes on the plight of people in the U.S. who live paycheck to paycheck, if they get paychecks at all. Many of the 140 million poor and near-poor don’t.

The peaceful demonstrations, rallies, and press conferences are building up towards a massive virtual Poor People’s Campaign national gathering, focused on Congress, on June 21. Details here.

And that will kick off a 365-day drive to finally get Congress to face up to, and act to reverse, the plight of the poor and near-poor, said the Revs. William Barber and Liz Theoharis, the PPC’s co-chairs.

“We don’t have a scarcity of ideas. We have a scarcity of social conscience,” Barber declared as Theoharis and he hosted later reports via Zoom of gatherings from around the U.S.

He also warned “nothing has ever come easy. But even if it’s difficult, I’d rather die trying” to change conditions for the better “than live in hell.”

“The people with organized money got the best legislation money can buy” to advance interlocking evils of poverty, exploitation, war, and racism added the Rev. William Lamar, whose Metropolitan AME Church in D.C.—the city’s oldest Black congregation—was trashed by Trumpites last December.

“We have come from across the U.S. to free the nation from those interlocking negatives.”

The Poor People’s Campaign’s first step is to get lawmakers to endorse and pass a resolution, with the campaign’s goals. Barber said rank-and-file members helped craft it. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., the only lawmaker to oppose George W. Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, introduced it.

Californian Nell Myhand said her group went to Lee’s office, to thank her, and to the San Francisco office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) to push her to endorse Lee’s move and the campaign’s goals, and let them come to a vote. “More than 70% of the poor are women and children,” Maynard explained.

“The injustice of poverty and low wealth is deeply entwined with the injustices of systemic racism, the denial of health care and ecological devastation, militarism, and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism that seeks to blame the poor instead of addressing systems that cause poverty,” Lee’s resolution declares, echoing the campaign’s platform planks.

Her measure says the goal of the Third Reconstruction—the first two were the original one after the Civil War, and the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s—is to build “an equitable, thriving, and resilient economy from the bottom up.

“Congress commits to heal the nation, beginning over the next two years” to do so “by prioritizing and centering the needs of the 140 million in laws and legislation,” such as infrastructure development, expanding benefits, providing cash assistance for the poor and near poor, guaranteeing adequate incomes and child care and “raising the minimum wage to a living wage and guaranteeing the right to form and join unions for all workers.”

Much of this would be paid for, said both Lee and the Poor People’s Campaign, by cutting the military budget in half, by repealing the Trump-GOP tax cuts for the rich and corporations and then using those funds to improve education, forgive student loans, stop evictions, expand food aid and guarantee health care, among other benefits for the entire country.

Speaker after speaker from state after state reported they made those points to lawmakers, who are returning from their latest congressional recess.

“Folks brought their own truth and their own vulnerability” to an “online digital press conference,” in Florida, home to 9.8 million poor and near-poor, state campaign co-chair Penelope de la Cruz reported. In addition to Florida’s delegation, speakers aimed at two main blockaders of action for the poor—and on Democratic President Joe Biden’s program—Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., who represents a deep red state.

McConnell vows to use the filibuster to kill everything Biden, the Poor People’s Campaign, and progressive allies want. Manchin believes the filibuster’s requirement of a 60-vote Senate majority, out of 100 senators, encourages compromise.

GOP behavior since 1994 shows that view is a lie. Nevertheless, in a 50-50 Senate, Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. D-Ariz., a key swing state, want to preserve obstructionist, racist-spawned filibusters.

“What do you think about Manchin, who just said he’s going to block everything, including living wages and voting rights?” Barber asked Indianan Jim Watt, a formerly homeless veteran who lost his business, his house, and his spouse in the financier-caused 2008 crash.

When times were good, Watt replied, “Everybody, including the government, wanted to give me more.” But when he became “dirt poor, everybody starts blaming me for society’s ills…They spit on me.” Added fellow veteran Kassidi Nabors of Georgia: “We risked our lives for our country and when we come back, not one vet should go without food or shelter.”

Lee’s resolution says that’s not the case: 38,000 veterans are homeless and between 7%-18% of vets and their families “need food assistance.”

“This is, pardon the expression, ass-backwards, morally indefensible and economically insufficient,” Barber commented.

Poor People’s Campaign members are also campaigning, hard, for the For The People Act, and the John Lewis Act. Those measures, two measures would, combined, restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act while making it easier to register, vote, and have your votes counted and obeyed.

That’s the opposite of voter suppression laws now moving through GOP-dominated states. Manchin opposes the For The People Act. It would roll back the current GOP “Jim Crow 2.0,” which targets voters of color.

“This is not just about new laws, but about the masses reinterpreting the text of the (U.S.) Constitution as a moral and political commitment to redefine and expand democracy,” Barber said, quoting the great Black activist, W.E.B. DuBois.

“The truth is that’s what the oppressors fear—expanding democracy…They hold the Constitution to a pre-Civil War standard.”

Not if the Poor People’s Campaign, Barber, and their legions can help it. As Myhand put it in her warning to lawmakers: “Hey, Congress! We’re comin’!”



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.