The Poor People’s Campaign marches and rallies in DC on Saturday

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Thousands of people gathered in downtown Washington on Saturday for a rally aimed at drawing attention to poor and low-income people disproportionately affected by a wide range of issues, including those related to health care. , housing, armed violence, the right to abortion and working conditions.

Participants started at Freedom Plaza and marched along Pennsylvania Avenue for the Assembly of the Poor and Low-Wage Workers and the Moral March on Washington. Some carried placards with messages such as “Houses, not drones”, “Let’s destroy capitalism together” and “Reparations, not occupation”.

With gospel music blasting from the stage and a strong breeze blowing, they gathered in sight of the Capitol. It was a crowd with a diverse mix of blacks and whites, Latinos and Asians, young families with babies and retirees, union members and college students. Speakers cycling off the stage addressed an equally wide range of issues, from environmental concerns to challenges facing Indigenous peoples.

“We are not an insurrection,” said the Reverend William J. Barber II, a North Carolina preacher who is co-chair of the organizing group, the Poor People’s Campaign, a resurgence of the movement organized by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. . before his death in 1968.

“But we are a restoration!”

Jessica Foster was among the first to arrive at Freedom Plaza on Saturday morning, taking a seat on the marble surface to wait for friends. She recalled a quote from her grandmother: “If you can’t stand something, you’ll fall for anything.”

The 32-year-old Annapolis resident got involved after marching in Annapolis in February to bring poverty issues to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s (R) attention.

“Being poor is hard,” Foster said. “The homeless are the most vulnerable and at the bottom of the food chain. This march is one of the best ways to draw attention to this issue.

A sense of urgency prompted Scott Warren, 65, to travel from Lincoln, California.

“I think the country is in grave peril,” Warren said. “Democracy is under threat.

Like Warren, many in the crowd were longtime activists and organizers who have demonstrated for a variety of progressive causes for years, from anti-war platforms to civil rights to police reform. Many have expressed fear that these ideals are under threat.

Reverend William Barber is building a moral movement

Hairdresser said the leaders found inspiration by studying the activism of King and other leaders in the civil rights movement. Saturday’s event will precede Juneteenth, a day that symbolizes the end of slavery in the United States.

This is an urgent time, Barber said before the event, in which poor and low-income people are disproportionately affected in areas such as health care, housing, gun violence, abortion rights, working conditions, white supremacy and racism, immigration, climate crisis and voting restrictions. Inflation is also rising at its fastest pace in four decades, giving no respite to people who were already struggling to shop, pay for gas or pay their rent.

DC prepares for Poor People’s Campaign rally, Juneteenth

Barber said the movement aims to bring together people of all races, ethnicities, religions and regions, as King’s work has done, to “change the moral narrative” and mobilize a voting bloc of the poor who can influence politics. everywhere, from their hometown to the United States. Capitol and White House.

Amid the lemon-yellow banners and placards waved on Saturday to represent the movement, a group of women stand out in fuchsia.

Cynthia Papermaster, 75, carried a bright pink umbrella with the message “Cut the Pentagon, Fund the Planet”, while walking her dog, Lucky, also dressed in purplish pink. She is the coordinator of the San Francisco chapter of Code Pink, a grassroots organization aimed at ending wars and American military spending.

In her 15 years with the organization, she said, it’s become increasingly difficult for her to maintain hope as military spending continues to take money that could be spent on affordable housing. and health care.

“Guns are really one of the roots of all these inequalities,” she said. Papermaster said that while protests are a great way to show support, real change will happen in the voting booths — by electing people to Congress who share his group’s values.

“We have to elect people to Congress because that’s where federal budget decisions are made,” she said. “And as the Poor People’s Campaign says, this budget is a moral document.”

Those who joined the rally represented a variety of groups and causes. On the side of Pennsylvania Avenue, young people belonging to the Party for Socialism and Liberation showed their support.

“What Dr. King called the third evil was the fight against militarism, and we are here to honor that legacy in that regard,” said Benjamin Zinevich, a 25-year-old party member. “We think it’s the young people who have the kind of idealism, the power and the ability to make the change that we see throughout history with civil rights.”

Members of the North Carolina chapter of White Coats for Social and Health Justice, a group of doctors and health professionals, traveled to the Washington event to lend their support.

“Poverty is a public health issue,” said Howard Eisenson, a doctor from Durham, North Carolina. “The problem with doctors is that too often we stick to our exam rooms and operating theaters and don’t come out and support organizations fighting for affordable housing, skilled education, environmental justice and other platforms.”

At one point, the crowd cheered as the onstage speaker spoke about the fight to end homelessness. Amid the massive gathering, Walter Hales clutched his sign as the wind picked up.

Hales, 71, of Pittsburgh, joined the Poor People’s Campaign last September and is also part of the Black Political Empowerment Project. He believes that advocating for people experiencing poverty is the most widespread issue of the day.

“It’s an intersectional issue that fuels racism and fractures families,” Hales said. “But it affects education and hurts those who cannot participate in a democracy.”

Those gathering on Saturday, Barber previously said, represent the 140 million poor and low-income people, according to the organization’s analysis of the Census Supplemental Poverty Measure. His group held a Friday night memorial service at the Lincoln Memorial to mourn the more than one million Americans who have died of covid-19.

Barber’s organization is advocating for what it calls a Third Rebuild, a program that includes changing the measurement of poverty to reflect the current cost of living, providing paid family and medical leave to all workers , an end to all evictions and an increase in the minimum wage.

This relaunch of the poor campaign, focused on how some of today’s most pressing issues affect the poorest Americans, has staged protests in the nation’s capital for years.

50 years later, the poor’s new campaign lays out political strategy beyond its rally in Washington

Organizers launched 40 days of protest and civil disobedience across the country ahead of a 2018 rally on the mall to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “Resurrection City,” when thousands of people camped on the mall in 1968 to fight against poverty.

Barber also spoke at the annual March on Washington, honoring King’s historic demonstration. He was arrested alongside Reverend Jesse L. Jackson outside the Capitol last summer during a protest calling on Congress to end the filibuster, protect the right to vote and raise the federal minimum wage at $15 an hour.

“We know the problem is the lack of political and moral will. It is a redemptive movement, deeply rooted in love, justice and truth. Saturday is not a day; it’s not just a walk; it’s a statement,” Barber said. “We will no longer be silenced and we will no longer be invisible.”

Mary Anne Perrone came from Michigan to rally on Saturday. She said the climate crisis was first and foremost on her mind, but she considers many of the issues people marched for to be “connected”. And while she said she saw strong action in her home country, she said more needed to be done nationally to help people “on the margins of society”.

“There’s a lot that can be done and a lot that can be undone,” Perrone said, “but I believe the awareness of this campaign is growing and unstoppable.”

Peter Hermann contributed to this report.

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