Poor People’s Campaigners descend on state capitols, demanding end to deprivation
Screenshot of CBS TV coverage of Poor Peoples Campaigners at the state capitol in Austin, Texas, one of the 30 locations they demonstrated at this weekend.

Poor People’s Campaigners from coast to coast descended on 30 state capitols, plus Washington, D.C.’s city hall, demanding lawmakers end poverty and shift money away from the military—or else face defeat at the polls this fall.

The demands were voiced in the capitals and they’ll culminate in a June 15 mass march on the U.S. Capitol—where lawmakers, with few exceptions, have given campaigners’ causes either lip service or, from the Republicans  the backs of their hands.

To counter those attitudes, the campaign aims to register millions of poor and low-wealth people between now and Election Day, and then make a larger share of them than ever get to the polls—and have their votes counted, too.

Campaign leaders calculate that if turnout among the nation’s 140 million people who live from paycheck to paycheck rose by 18% over the levels of four years ago, there would be massive changes—for the better—in the priorities and personalities of the political class.

“There are 40 weeks to mobilize 15 million more low-wage workers ahead of the 2024 Election Day,” Service Employees Local 32BJ Capital Area board member Judith Howell told the D.C. crowd. “Poverty is murder.

When poor and low-wealth voters “turn out in large numbers, we have a better chance to elect people, not politicians, who respect people.”

Campaigners emphasized that poverty is the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S., and said it is time for the pols to acknowledge it and enact concrete moves to end the scourge. Besides cutting the military and shifting those funds to domestic needs, they include stronger worker rights, the right to affordable and available health care, money for adequate housing, and a minimum wage that is a living wage.

They also favor moves to curb the clout of the radical right, notably so-called “Christian” preachers whose screeds are filled with bile. “We will not let the shadow of hate linger. We will take back our nation from the extremists,” one D.C. speaker promised.

“We know D.C. is considered one of the most-progressive districts” in the U.S., organizer Madison Crum told the crowd there in a downtown church before their march. “So why are 30% of us in poverty?” D.C. houses 735,000 people.

“Even at $17 an hour,” D.C.’s minimum wage, “an individual would have to work  83 hours a week” to afford a modest apartment in the nation’s capital. The poor often face a choice of “Pay your taxes or lose your house,” added Mandy Whitehurst.

But if the reception in D.C. from visits to lawmakers and staff there last month is any indication, the Poor People’s Campaigners have a problem, not with their supporters, but with politicians. As Crum pointed out, pro-business Mayor Muriel Bowser D) and the city council plan a 10% cut in social services and education spending.

The campaign drew a heavy labor contingent, at least in D.C. Besides the Service Employees, groups from locals of the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Metro D.C. Central Labor Council, and the Communications Workers marched. One cause for them: Statehood for D.C., which only has a House of Representatives delegate to whom the ruling Republicans deny a floor vote.

Outside D.C., marchers in the state capitals emphasized the Poor People’s Campaign’s platform, but included advocates of other causes, too, an Internet survey showed.

A delegation demanding an immediate cease-fire in Israel’s war on Gazan Palestinians joined the marchers in Madison, Wis., for example. They demanded a Free Palestine and an end to U.S. military aid to Israel.

“Our unjust policies and inequitable practices of paying less than living wages, denying equal rights to heath care, education and housing, the destruction of our shared environment and relying on violence rather than building peace result in death of our people,” Susan Phillips, Illinois Poor People’s Campaign co-chair told a crowd in the state capital of Springfield.

In Montgomery, Ala., speakers discussed the U.S. budget and the climate crisis. They also carried a coffin in memory “of those who died from Covid and lack of adequate healthcare,” local news reported.

“When people die, you may see all kinds of things listed on their death certificate, but if you dig a little deeper you might find out that they died really because of poverty-related issues,” Alabama Poor People’s Campaign Tri-Chair Rev. Carolyn Foster told the crowd there.

“Lack of Medicaid expansion, not having a living wage and couldn’t find work, or lack of affordable housing.” Alabama has 1.9 million poor and low-income eligible voters, about 47% of the electorate.

In Austin, Texas, people carried signs, in English and Spanish, declaring “Stop SB4,” WGME/ CBS-TV reported.  The bill, pushed by right-wing extremist Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and nativists in the gerrymandered legislature, would “create a new class of ‘illegal entry’ state crimes to authorize police people they suspect of unlawfully entering Texas from Mexico between ports of entry,” Wikipedia said.

In other words, brown and Black people.

“There are too many people in this country and particularly in this state that are dying from poverty unnecessarily.” added Texas Tri-Chair with the Texas Poor People’s Campaign Denita Jones. “I’ve been part of the system, and I know what it means to make a dollar too much” and thus lose federal benefits, “but you still can’t cover your basic needs.”

“We are in this particular time where democracy seems to be so fragile. I think we need to understand why we are in this situation. The Poor People’s Campaign is helping us to do that,” Mary Hobgood, one of several dozen people who marched on the Maine state capital building in Augusta, told WVII-TV.

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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.