response: January/February 2020 Issue

Partnering for a Moral Economy

United Methodist Women joins the Poor People’s Campaign to work for a country that better reflects God’s justice and grace.

Partnering for a Moral Economy
United Methodist Women Executive for Community Action Carol Barton, l., joins Poor People’s Campaign participant Angela Davis.

One hundred and forty million Americans are poor. That is 43.5 percent of the U.S. population. Their income is less than twice the poverty level. As reported in The Nation, nearly 40 percent of Americans couldn’t afford an unexpected $400 expense.

The Poor People’s Campaign, a national faith partner of United Methodist Women, works to address systemic injustices that push people into poverty and keep them there.

The Poor People’s Moral Budget, developed by the campaign, shows how government funds can be better used to support efforts that foment social justice— it is not a call for additional taxes but for a shift in priorities. Twenty-one percent of African Americans and 18 percent of Hispanic Americans live below the poverty line. The poverty rate for white Americans is 9 percent.

“Poor does not mean black,” explained campaign activist Annette Davis. “It refers to a person’s income level. The poor are defined by having little money and little voice. They are linked. They are synonymous.” Davis, who recently moved to Virginia Beach, is a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church who worked closely with United Methodist Women when she lived in Boston. She is happy to join United Methodist Women in the Living Wage for All campaign. The Poor People’s Campaign is a fusion movement, according to Davis, bringing people together from all backgrounds and experiences.

A moral economy

“Both the Poor People’s Campaign and United Methodist Women work in service and advocacy for poor people,” said Carol Barton, United Methodist Women’s executive for community action. “Both of us feed people, and both of us advocate for poor people.” The campaign provided a spotlight to these issues with the commitment obtained by co-chair the Rev. William Barber from nine 2020 U.S. presidential candidates that they would have one of the presidential campaign debates devoted to poverty. United Methodist Women and the Poor People’s Campaign advocate for a moral economy. A report released in June 2019 by the campaign and the Institute for Policy Studies declares that “the United States has abundant resources for an economic revival that will move toward establishing a moral economy.” Both take seriously Proverbs 31:9’s call to “defend the poor and the needy,” and both focus on racial, climate and economic justice.

“The priorities all fit together,” said Barton. “And, for us, maternal and child health is spread through all of the three injustices.”

No injustice can be addressed in isolation—or alone. In the Poor People’s Campaign, United Methodist Women has a faith partner, and members have a partner in their states and local communities.

“Both organizations have special abilities to inform, train and teach members to be effective leaders and  connect with people who can get the message out,” said Davis.

A group effort

According to Davis, she joined the campaign to connect herself with other poor people. She joined a community. A unified voice has the power to effect change.

For two years members of the Poor People’s Campaign visited churches across the country to help inform what would become the Poor People’s Moral Budget. United Methodist Women was recruited by the campaign to help. Both United Methodist Women and the campaign follow the leadership of those most directly affected by racism, poverty and other forms of marginalization. Both work in local and state coalitions to formulate policy and structure activities. Davis, an adjunct professor, sees the potential for effective activism to be at the strongest level that it has attained in many years. This comes from the surge of political awareness emanating from youth.

Throughout the activist community, Davis sees recognition of the crucial importance of involving young people in working for change. This starts by listening to young people and supporting them in their efforts. Many youth were in attendance at the June 2019 Poor People’s Congress.

“After teaching them, let them lead,” said Davis. “Then be sufficiently humble to know that you trained them well. Listen to them.”

You can join the Poor People’s Campaignat poorpeoplescampaign.org.L earn more about United Methodist Women’s work to end economic inequality at unitedmethodistwomen.org/economic-inequality, and be sure to sign up for action alerts at united methodistwomen.org/actionalerts. You and your local, district and conference United Methodist Women are key to helping your community be one in which women, children and youth can thrive. For as Psalm 9:18 (GNT) says,

“The needy will not always be neglected; the hope of the poor will not be crushed forever.”


Richard Lord is a photojournalist based in Ivy, Virginia, and New York City and a frequent contributor to response.

Posted or updated: 1/3/2020 12:00:00 AM