The Poor People’s Campaign


The Poor People’s Campaign: A Vision

Earlier this week, I had a meaningful experience participating in the Poor People’s Campaign. Perhaps you’ve heard about this?

The Poor People’s Campaign is a revival of a movement launched by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. In the wake of his assassination, however, the campaign did not move forward. Now, fifty years later, the Poor People’s Campaign is being revived and reconfigured for this era. Its formal title is, the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, as it seeks to address the wrongs of

-systemic racism,
-systemic poverty,
-the war economy, and
-ecological devastation.

Right now, the Poor People’s Campaign is taking place in 30 states in an effort to change the moral narrative, leading ultimately to care of neighbors and tangible policies to address and further dismantle these entrenched realities. The Poor People’s Campaign has crafted 40 days of direct action from May 15-June 23. People are traveling to state capitals; holding rallies that lift up the voices, perspectives, and humanity of people who are directly impacted by immoral policies; and engaging in direct action through civil disobedience. People are visibly placing their bodies in public to advocate for neighbors, and some are willfully risking arrest.

Voices of Directly Impacted People

On Monday, I drove with some friends to Lansing, and I had the gift of participating in this movement. We started with a rally in a park. Many clergy were there, and we stood behind people who are directly impacted by systemic racism, mass incarceration, the removal of DACA protections, and risk of deportation. These individuals lifted up their voices and told their stories.

When organizers invited clergy forward to stand behind these powerful speakers, I was very moved to look to my left and see the Rev. Edward Pinkney next to me. A long time organizer in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Rev. Pinkney was targeted unjustly and falsely accused of altering dates on a recall petition for Benton Harbor’s mayor, James Hightower. The recall was prompted by the mayor’s continued support for tax evasion by the Whirlpool Corporation, which is headquartered in Benton Harbor.

With the smallest amount of evidence, and perhaps even more alarming — the use in court of Rev. Pinkney’s activism as evidence itself (i.e. making an argument that he would be the type of person to do this through his political perspectives alone) — Rev. Pinkney was sentenced to ten years in prison. This drew the attention of organizations like the ACLU, concerned that Rev. Pinkney had been targeted as a political prisoner. He was moved around to several prisons in Michigan, and at one point, confined in a cell that had black mold. While all of this was unjust to him personally, Rev. Pinkney spent several years lifting up the abuses and indignities faced by all prisoners in Michigan. I am pleased to say that his case was formally overturned at the beginning of this month. It was so meaningful to see Rev. Pinkney present at the Poor People’s Campaign, continuing to lift up his voice for the needs of many who are harmed within Michigan’s prisons.

Direct Action and Civil Disobedience

After we had the rally in the park, we marched collectively to the Constitution Hall, a location where many state offices are held. For hours, many marched in a circle in front of the building, articulating a different moral narrative and calling attention to injustices. This took place while some chose civil disobedience and blocked the entrance of the building. They wanted to call attention to these needs by risking arrest.

Eventually, that’s what happened. Some were arrested by the Lansing Police and the Michigan State Police. When people were walked in handcuffs by police to their vehicles, the larger crowd of participants formed an aisle and stood on either side to applaud loudly, giving thanks and adding encouragement to those who chose to be arrested. I noticed that many of the arrested participants were older women. Later, I learned that some of them were Roman Catholic nuns.

Getting Involved

Joining with others in 30 states, we will do it all again next Tuesday, May 29, this time calling attention to the militarism, the war economy, and gun violence. You are invited to get involved too wherever you are.

Those who are doing civil disobedience have all gone to mandatory training. They know before they arrive what they are choosing to do. If you feel called to that vision, training events are still happening. But you can also do direct action in support by attending the rallies and/or marching to where the civil disobedience is happening. All tactics for the Poor People’s Campaign are purposefully non-violent. When you show up with your presence, you will learn, and you will bring visibility to these necessary concerns in our nation.

Want to get involved? You can go to this link to sign up, and someone will contact you. You can also search for the Poor People’s Campaign Facebook pages in your state and your local area. (In my local area, here is the Michigan Page and here is the Washtenaw County Page).

Renee Roederer

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