Act: Inspiration

50 Years After MLK’s Poor People’s Campaign, 2,500+ Arrested Over 6 Weeks Calling for Moral Revival

June 29, 2018

We feature voices of the thousands who marched on the nation’s Capitol Saturday for the Poor People’s Campaign. The mass demonstration followed six weeks of actions around the country and more than 2,500 arrests, as protesters join what they are calling a “moral revival” to demand an end to systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation. The march brought together activists from around the country more than 50 years after demonstrators converged on Washington, D.C., in 1968 to take up the cause that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been fighting for when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968: the original Poor People’s Campaign. Demonstrators rallied to protest widespread poverty just days after U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley slammed a new U.N. report slamming the Trump administration’s policies for worsening the state of poverty in the United States.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The Yara Allen Justice Choir, singing Saturday in Washington, D.C., joining thousands who rallied and marched on the Capitol for the Poor People’s Campaign, the mass demonstration following six weeks of actions around the country and more than, well, 2,500 to 3,000 arrests, as protesters joined what they’re calling a “moral revival” to demand an end to systematic racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation. The march brought together activists from around the country, more than 50 years after demonstrators converged in Washington in 1968, to take up the cause that Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King had been fighting for when he was assassinated April 4th, 1968: the original Poor People’s Campaign. Just over a week after her husband’s memorial service, Coretta Scott King led a march to demand an Economic Bill of Rights that included a guaranteed basic income, full employment and more low-income housing. Half a century later, the Reverend Dr. William Barber and Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis led the new Poor People’s Campaign in a march uniting low-wage workers, clergy, community activists, even some activists who marched in the original Poor People’s Campaign 50 years ago.

The demonstrators rallied to protest widespread poverty, just days after the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, slammed a new U.N. report slamming the Trump administration’s policies for worsening the state of poverty in the United States. The report details how 40 million Americans live in extreme poverty, 18-and-a-half—live in poverty; 18-and-a-half million Americans live in extreme poverty. Nikki Haley said last week, “It is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America,” this as she pulled the United States out of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Well, organizers say the Poor People’s Campaign has been the most expansive wave of nonviolent direct action in the U.S. this century, with well over 2,000 arrests. We turn now to voices from Saturday’s Poor People’s Campaign rally.

REVMARK THOMPSON: Please welcome the Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis and the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber.

REVLIZ THEOHARIS: We are a powerful group of poor people and moral leaders and activists and organizers and freedom fighters. And 40 days ago, on Mother’s Day, we launched this campaign. Our work has only just begun, ’cause over the past 40 days people of all races, colors and creeds have joined together to engage in nonviolent moral fusion direct action to demand that we lift all families up, we lift all people up. We don’t break them apart. It is unjust, immoral and unnecessary to have millions of poor people in this land. It is unjust, immoral and unnecessary that we have children warehoused across this country because of their immigration status, because of their homelessness, because their families had no access to water. We need a Poor People’s Campaign. So we are building one.

REVWILLIAM BARBER II: We gather today for a call to action. We gather here declaring it’s time for a moral uprising all across America. We are in the same moral tradition of the prophets of Israel, who challenged kings and rulers to stop legislating evil. We are in the same moral tradition of Jesus, whose evangelical work was not being against gay people, but being against poverty. We are in the same moral tradition of the Apache and other indigenous spiritual people, who taught us to care and not destroy and poison the air, water and the land. We are in the same moral tradition of the abolitionists, who knew, if slavery was legal, it was still immoral, and it had to be challenged. We are in the same moral tradition of the reconstructionists, who, after the Civil War, fought for equal protection under the law. We are in the same moral tradition as the social gospel movement, who looked at poverty and corporate greed and asked, “What would Jesus do?” We are in the same moral tradition of those who fought for labor unions and decent wages and 8-hour workdays, even when they were killed and hung in places like Chicago. We are in the same moral tradition as Cesar Chavez and MLK and Rabbi Heschel and Fannie Lou Hamer and Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman and Rosa Parks and Unitarians and Muslims like Malcolm and gay people and social justice activists like Bayard Rustin. We stand in the same moral tradition that have always fought to help this nation be a little more, a little more grounded in love, truth and peace, and to come a little closer to being a more perfect union. This is who we are.

Make no mistake, America. You’ve got to get a new lexicon for this. You won’t be able to report this like you’ve normally reported it. We are black. We are white. We are brown. We are red. We are yellow. We are gay. We are straight. We are old. We are urban. We are rural. We are Jewish. We are Christian. We are Hindus. We are Muslim. We are people of faith. We are people not of faith. From Alaska to Alabama, to the Deep South in Mississippi, to northern Maine, from California to the Carolinas, from the Midwest, from the Rust Belt to the Wheat Belt, we are the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. And we won’t be silent anymore!…

And so, today is about the people. This is a different kind of rally. We’ve not invited people here today to speak for the people. We’ve invited the people to speak for themselves, because I think it’s time for a revolution.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER 1: Wow! You guys are beautiful, making me cry, honestly. But did you know that there are 140 million people who are poor or low-income in the United States of America, including over 73 million women and young girls? That’s sad. That’s sad.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER 2: And did you know that there is 38.2 million children that are poor? That’s more than 51.9 percent of children under the age of 18.

TANA: My name is Tana. I’m from Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Wildcats and Kentucky bourbon. Well, I’m glad you didn’t cheer too loud, because I hate to say this: home of Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul, Hal Rogers. That’s not a good thing to say, but I got to say it anyway. I want to tell you about Appalachia. It is the oldest and richly diverse environmental area in terms of plants and animals, in nature resources, in the natural resources. Yet this state is the worst poverty rate in the region in Kentucky, with 25.4 percent rate in the Appalachia portion versus 18.9 in the rest of the state. The coal mines are long gone, and the promise to bring them back is a lie from the pits of hell.

JAY: Greetings. I come in front of you today as a biracial, African-American transgender woman without healthcare, with serious health issues. But I stand with you today to tell you that after earning a bachelor’s degree in history and political science, after working 30 years of my life with a good-paying job, I, too, have been set back. I have been diagnosed with kidney disease, stage V. I fell behind in my payments. I was two months behind, and I made a double payment. But they had some grace period law, that they told me after the fact, so as I lay on my deathbed, I’m still here, and I will be fighting to the end! I want to say thank you for fighting for me. I want to say thank you for fighting for you. And I want to say thank you for fighting for a moral America. I love you!

REVWILLIAM BARBER II: Yeah, yeah, give it up for Jay!

IRASEMA HERNANDEZ: So, my name is Irasema Hernandez. People call me Sema, but you can call me your sister. I stand here in solidarity with Kenya from California. She is the co-chair of California of California Poor People’s Campaign. She could not be here, but she is watching. She is welcoming a new addition to her family.

I’m here today to talk about what’s being done to our families, to shine a light on the atrocities happening to our brothers and sisters crossing imaginary borders. I am a daughter of immigrants, immigrant migrant workers who crossed the border for a better life. Instead, it was a life of bondage. We worked the tomato fields, apple, peach and orange orchards. As a little girl, I remember picking tomatoes with my grandmother as a plane flew over us, dumping pesticides. I lived in the shadows in fear for my mother and my abuelos, that they would be deported, for much of my life. Separating families is a practice that has been done for a very long time to keep us in control and keep us scared.

The capitalist system is deeply rooted in white supremacy. When our brothers and sisters are crossing imaginary borders, it’s not because they want to. It is because they have to, to survive war-torn countries, economic and ecological devastation caused by capitalist and white supremacy ideology, that bombs black and brown nations to exploit and profit from humanitarian crisis. We must learn from history to avoid repeating it. We must stop families from being separated, before it happens, not after the fact when it’s comfortable and convenient to talk about it.

My brothers and sisters, we can all do something to help stop these atrocities, by divesting from the system that contributes to this perpetual war economy. Take your money to credit unions, and re-evaluate your retirement and investment accounts. Use the capitalist system against it and break it.

I was born in this country. I am a citizen. And still I lived in fear. I was born into bondage. We were all born into bondage. But we can change that right now. To the people employed by the federal government just doing their job, do not let the job get in the way of your humanity.

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REVWILLIAM BARBER II: Now we want to hear, as we get ready to march, from our brother who is a brother who’s an actor, but when he’s out here, he ain’t acting, he’s the real deal, none other than Danny Glover.

DANNY GLOVER: Thank you, Reverend Barber. Thank you for all being here today, this historic moment here. I’m here, and I think about the moment when, whenever Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee showed up to some place, they’ve always said, “I’m here today because this is where I’m supposed to be at.” We’re here today because this is where we’re supposed to be at this moment, as we fight injustice, as we fight on behalf of poor people in this country and also around the world. In this way, we remember as ourself our sister who was assassinated in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, our sister Marielle Franco, who led through—for LGBTQ people, who are also doing that. So we do all of that. We know that we’re here to be—it goes beyond this, but we know we have to organize, organize, organize. The movement just doesn’t sit right here in this moment. The movement we’re building, the way we change this country is going to be sustained activism. And I know that you’re here today, you’re here tomorrow, and you’re in it to the end, ’til we win. Thank you.

REVWILLIAM BARBER II: Now, we’re going to march. I hope they don’t try to throw us out the street, because we’re going in the street.

PROTESTERS: [singing] Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around. I’m gonna keep on walking, keep on talking, marching up to Freedomland. Ain’t gonna let no president turn me around, turn me around, turn me around. Ain’t gonna let no president turn me around. I’m going to keep on walking, keep on talking, marching up to Freedomland.

POLICE OFFICER: So, folks, as you walk through—hold up, folks. Reverend Jackson, folks, please hold up.


POLICE OFFICER: You are together as a group. Whether you’re a single-file line or not, you are breaking off as a group from your demonstration.

REVJESSE JACKSON: Now, wait a minute. We’re individuals.

POLICE OFFICER: OK, you are still part of the demonstration.

UNIDENTIFIED: Well, what he’s saying here is that we’re still going up there to demonstrate by delivering letters. That’s considered demonstration. If we go one at a time, if 20 of us end up there at the same time, then it’s a demonstration, and we’re subject to arrest. That’s what he’s saying.

POLICE OFFICER: That is correct, because you’re demonstrating without a permit at that time.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re in a scrum right now, right near the Capitol. And Jesse Jackson, Reverend Barber, Elizabeth Theoharis, Danny Glover, Reverend James Forbes, they’re asking permission to walk one at a time to deliver boxes of petitions. Reverend Jackson, what’s happening here?

REVJESSE JACKSON: The police are pulling a Border Patrol stunt on us, stopping us from walking up to the Capitol. They say, “If you march individually, it’s all right. But as a group, you can’t.” We’re a group of individuals. We have the right to march to the Capitol, a nonviolent protest, with our concerns about justice and dignity and healthcare and jobs and wages. This should not be a threat. Nor should we be impeded by police action. This is brutality.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Forbes, you’re also here. Why are you here today?

REVJAMES FORBES: I am here because 50 years ago Martin Luther King was assassinated. This is the 50th anniversary. How did he die? Working for poor people. And now heaven—as you know, I don’t talk about heaven much, even though I’m a preacher—has declared that in order to show that Martin Luther King did not shed his blood in vain, heaven has decreed that dramatic, divine enhancement of movement is going to take place, in order to say to King and to Bobby Kennedy, “Ah, although you shed your blood, the movement was not killed. It was not extinguished.”

AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts, the border, what’s happening and the separation of children? You’re—you were the head of Riverside Church.


AMY GOODMAN: And in New York, something like 700 children who have been separated from their parents, apparently, are in various institutions. The governor or the mayor have not exactly found out where they are.

REVJAMES FORBES: Let’s put it in historic context. The separation of children, for me, goes back all the way to the slavery process, by which the natural way to make slaves and to dehumanize people was to break their family bonds. All I can think of: Here it goes again. Whether or not it is separating by incarceration on trumped-up charges or trivialized assessment of criminal penalties, or whether or not it’s separation on the basis of economics, or whether it’s separation on the basis of gerrymandering, or whether it’s separation on border rights, every time families are torn apart, the fabric of humanity has been rent. That’s why I’m saying what’s happening in Texas is only a kind of, as it were, sort of snapshot of what is wrong in the body politic in general.

PROTESTERS: [singing] I’ve got a feeling everything’s gonna be all right.

AMY GOODMAN: Those last voices, the Reverend James Forbes, distinguished senior minister emeritus of the Riverside Church in New York, and the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who was with Reverend Dr. King when he was assassinated April 4th, 1968. Singing was the Reverend Barber, who, together with the Reverend Liz Theoharis, have been leading the new poor people’s movement that they say has just begun. In these last six weeks, there have been over 2,500 arrests.

Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host and executive producer of Democracy Now!, a national, daily, independent, award-winning news program airing on over 1,400 public television and radio stations worldwide. The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard honored Goodman with the 2014 I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence Lifetime Achievement Award. She is also the first journalist to receive the Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the 'Alternative Nobel Prize' for “developing an innovative model of truly independent grassroots political journalism that brings to millions of people the alternative voices that are often excluded by the mainstream media.” She is the first co-recipient of the Park Center for Independent Media’s Izzy Award, named for the great muckraking journalist I.F. Stone, and was later selected for induction into the Park Center’s I.F. Stone Hall of Fame. The Independent of Londoncalled Amy Goodman and Democracy Now! “an inspiration.”

Tags: building resilient societies, civil disobedience, Poor People's Campaign, social movements