On March 21, a message that has become all too familiar appeared on a Facebook event called PA Stop: We Must Do MORE Tour:
Due to the increasing and continued threats of COVID-19 and the necessary social distancing measures we must all take to keep ourselves as safe as we can in these times, this event has been cancelled for the health and safety of all involved.
Please join us on Thursday, March 26 at 8:30pm ET for a special Digital Mass Meeting - Poverty Amidst Pandemic: Everybody's Got a Right to Live - on the #PoorPeoplesCampaign FB page: fb.com/anewppc
The Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival had been planning a stop in Pittsburgh on April 25. It was going to be part of the “We Must Do MORE Tour!" which started in September 2019, with plans to stop in 20 states in advance of a Mass Poor People’s Assembly & Moral March in Washington, DC on June 20.
The “MORE” in “We Must Do MORE Tour” stands for the key strategies of the campaign: Mobilizing, Organizing, Registering, and Educating.
Reverends Dr. Liz Theoharis and Bishop Dr. William Barber II were scheduled to join the PA Poor People’s Campaign in Butler for a community visit on ecological devastation and in Pittsburgh for a community meal, march, and mass meeting.
But like many event organizers across the country, the Poor People’s Campaign, its Pennsylvania chapter, and local organizers have had to adjust to the realities of living in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is continuing the unfinished business of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s original 1968 campaign to end poverty, racism, militarism, and ecological devastation. The campaign is state-based with national leadership from Rev. Dr. William Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis.
Barber, the minister and political activist well known for his leadership in North Carolina’s “Moral Mondays” protests, was honored in 2015 at The Nation magazine’s annual dinner. Theoharis, a minister in the Presbyterian Church and anti-poverty activist, is the director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary.
Across the country, 41 states have chapters, including Pennsylvania.
In Pennsylvania, the campaign is being managed by a coordinating committee from organizations led by the poor and dispossessed. Organizer Emmie DiCicco identified several participating organizations including Put People First! PA, Movement of Immigrant Leaders, Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration, ACT UP!, Global Women's Strike, MarchOnHarrisburg, Sunrise Movement, and others. The Coordinating Committee is led by the chairs of Pennsylvania’s campaign, Borja Gutierrez and Nijmie Dzurinko.
The campaign lists a series of demands on its website, www.poorpeoplescampaign.org. The demands include categories like systemic racism and ecological devastation. The campaign does quite a bit of educating through these demands, asking readers questions like, “Did you know that there are fewer voting rights in 2018 than there were 50 years ago when the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act were passed?” and “Did you know 13.8 million U.S. households cannot afford water?”
The demands also include history lessons on the unfinished work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his call to unite against “triplets of evil—militarism, racism, and economic injustice.” The demands cite data that underscores the way these evils impact people living on the margins of our society, including people of color and LGBTQI people across the lifespan.
Other political educational tools on the website include a Poor People’s Moral Budget, the Souls of Poor Folk Audit, art and cultural resources, and a number of factsheets (including some that are state-specific) that describe the conditions the campaign is calling to change.
So, given the COVID-19 pandemic, how will the Poor People’s Campaign move forward with its Mass Poor People’s Assembly & Moral March on Washington? Instead of being an in-person march, this “national call for moral revival” will take place online.
DiCicco says, “we are working for the now digital event, which is shining a light on the conditions of those most impacted by systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism, and the war economy, and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.”
“The tour is mobilizing thousands of poor people, clergy, and people of conscience to gather digitally June 20, 2020 to demand the implementation of our Moral Agenda and challenge both political parties to address an economy that isn’t working for the majority of people.”
Participants can register at www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/june2020. The digital event website explains:
The Mass Poor People’s Assembly & Moral March on Washington is going digital! On June 20th, we will hold the largest digital and social media gathering of poor and low-wealth people, moral and religious leaders, advocates, and people of conscience in this nation’s history. A global pandemic is exposing even more the already existing crisis of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy and militarism, and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism. On June 20, the 140 million poor and low-wealth people across this nation will be heard!
The plans are evolving, with the site providing a digital toolkit with share graphics and sample social media posts, an organizer’s toolkit with a letter from Theoharis and Barber and tips for organizing people online, and answers to a list of frequently asked questions.
A theme of the June 20 march remains: We Must Do MORE -- mobilizing, organizing, registering, and educating.
Essentially, the overall ‘moral agenda’ of the events, organizers say, focus on challenging both political parties to address an economy that isn’t working for the majority of people. DiCicco emphasized that the campaign is non-partisan, with no elected officials or candidates speaking from the stage at events or serving on organizing committees.
“This is not about left and right, Democrat or Republican but about right and wrong.” The campaign does make demands of candidates and officials. “Since June, when we held a town hall during our national Moral Congress in Washington D.C, we have been demanding a DNC debate to discuss poverty.”
These demands have certainly not let up. “In the midst of this current pandemic which exposes the absolute rot of our current capitalist system, our demands-including healthcare for all and affordable and decent housing for all-are more important than ever. Additionally, the current crisis shows how the vast majority of this country is just one missed paycheck, one illness, one month’s rent away being homeless or worse.”