When Martin Luther King Jr. died, he was in the middle of building the Poor People's Campaign--a multiracial endeavor challenging America's persistent class divide. But the campaign was left unfinished, and the class divide has only gotten worse and will continue to do so under the latest policy from the Republican Congress, a massive package of tax cuts for the rich and tax hikes for everyone else. So a group of organizers and faith leaders is coming together to finish the work that King started and launching the new Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Rev. Emily McNeill is part of that campaign in New York State, and also director of the Labor Religion Coalition in New York, and she looks back on the year that was and forward to the campaign coming up.
I think that is a really important aspect of the campaign and it is intentional—to be pushing back on this myth that we all could raise ourselves up by our bootstraps and just continue to accumulate and become rich. It has obviously never been a reality in the history of the United States. But, there is also this history of people on the bottom, in all sorts of ways, coming together and organizing and claiming their identity.
One of the explicit goals of this phase of the campaign is about changing the moral narrative of all these issues; around racism and poverty and militarism and ecological devastation. Part of the narrative that the campaign wants to shift is that being poor is something to be ashamed of and instead to say, “No, poverty is something that our society should be ashamed of. We have nothing to be ashamed of if we are not making ends meet because there are structural reasons for that and people are getting rich off the fact that we are poor.” To claim that, that “We have nothing to be ashamed of, the people that are perpetuating the system are the ones who should be ashamed” is a big part of the messaging that we want to get through to people.
That is what comes across in the testimonies that the campaign has already been putting out from directly impacted folks from around the country, people standing up and saying, “There is nothing wrong with me. I am not…” There is a great video from this young woman who was part of the launch event. She is from Grays Harbor in Washington State and talking about, “I was homeless not because I am lazy, but because society doesn’t have any problem with me being homeless” and just really naming that she is not ashamed and she has no reason to be ashamed to be poor.


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