Action Alert

The Poor People’s Campaign

The Poor People’s Campaign

On the 50th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968, the Rev. William Barber II resigned from his position as NAACP president in North Carolina and announced his leading of the new Poor People’s Campaign. Partnered with the Kairos Center at Union Theological Seminary in New York, they have joined forces with other organizations to address the issues of economic equality across the United States. They call it a “moral revival of Martin Luther King’s legacy.”

In 1967, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. partnered with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to organize the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968. He wanted to demand economic justice for the millions of poor people of all backgrounds in the United States. He announced that it would be the “new March on Washington,” and if given proper commitment and unity, he believed it had the potential to become a political and social force to create tremendous economic change.

The major elements of the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 were to pressure Congress to pass an economic bill of rights, the passage of full employment and guaranteed income legislation, $30 billion annual appropriation for a war on poverty and the construction of 500,000 low-income housing units to rid the country of slums. The elements of the campaign were to be implemented in three stages: a nationwide boycott of major businesses to pressure business leaders to address economic disparity, nonviolent protests/mass arrests and the creation of a shanty town on the National Mall.

Living in Poverty

In the United States, there are 140 million people who are poor or are one emergency away from living in poverty. Families of four in poverty have an annual household income of less than $24,300 due to the recession. The high cost of living and the growing gap between the upper and the middle classes have resulted in difficult lives for an increasing number of poor Americans. The median income of families living in poverty is well below the poverty threshold, at only $9,600 per year. Of those living in poverty, the 2016 figures show that about 13.3 million are children - 18% of the poor population - under the age of 18. In addition, well over half of working-age adults in poverty are not in the workforce. Black Americans were hit harder by the recession, recovered faster, but are still more likely to be unemployed than white Americans. Women with a high school education or less are most likely to be out of the workforce. It is possible that many of those who are not in the workforce would have difficulty finding employment without significant government intervention.

Poor People Campaign Leaders

Today, the Poor People’s Campaign have leaders in 25 state capitals and Washington, D.C. These are states that chose not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Healthcare Act, passed voter suppression laws, and have had an absence of housing protection covering sexual orientation and living wage laws. Each leader carries out nonviolent direct action on these issues in their respective state. Since May 2018, there have been thousands of participants involved in direct action, with over 300 arrested for nonviolent protests.

The new campaign is committed to improving the livelihood of women, children and people with disabilities living in poverty. To this end, the campaign has established committees in 40 states that have the highest poverty rates and the highest number of women and children in need. The campaign advocates to make healthcare accessible and affordable, to address criminal justice disparities, and for the creation of good jobs while also addressing systemic racism that affects voting rights.

In the spring of 2018, the campaign organized 40 weeks of civil disobedience and coordinated action. Phase I was a 40-day campaign for the organization’s main principles. People arrived at the state capitals across the United States for direct action. Phase II consisted of canvassing across the United States to get people registered to vote. They also reached out to poor communities and listened to individual stories to cater to their areas of need more effectively. In August, the campaign partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union and Unlock the Vote to get eligible incarcerated individuals registered to vote in the upcoming election.

On September 26, 2018, Susie Johnson, United Methodist Women Office of Public Policy Director, attended the Poor People’s Campaign hearing held on Capitol Hill. At this hearing, state representatives called for Congress to act on a variety of issues affecting the millions of poor people in the United States.  Among those in attendance were Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi from California, Congresswoman Gwen Moore from Wisconsin, Congressman David Price from North Carolina, Congressman Steve Cohen from Tennessee, Congressman John Sarbanes from Maryland and the Rev. Liz Theoharis. “Half of the children living in America, live in poverty, and 73% of those living in poverty are women,” Rev. Theoharis stated. Congresswoman Pelosi spoke of her personal experience as a mother and how children are our future: “As I’ve said all the time, when people ask me what the three most important issues are facing the Congress, I always say the same thing: our children, our children, our children. Their health, their education, the economic security of their families, a safe and clean environment in which they can thrive, a world of peace in which they can reach their fulfillment.” She then spoke about Congress’ duty to protect and provide for our children and criticized those in Congress who do not share the same sentiments.

Building Unity

The 21st century Poor People’s Campaign is seeking to build a unity across race, issues, gender, gender identity, sexual identity, age, faith and geography that can break through the politics that divide us. They believe that power lies in unity and poor people have the solutions when they come together as one. They believe that they will begin to break through the noise of racism, poverty, militarism and ecological devastation to demonstrate that another America is possible. “Not everything that is faced can be changed,” James Baldwin reminds us, “but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” The new Poor People’s Campaign reminds us that the change that we need to address poverty lies within our unity.

Posted or updated: 12/4/2018 12:00:00 AM
Give Thanks. Give Now.

Take Action:

Contact your local congressional representative at Capital Switchboard (202-224-3121) or in their district office to voice your support for:

  • H. R. 3381 & S.1630 Child Poverty Reduction Act of 2017: These bills establish, within the Administration for Children and Families of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Interagency Working Group on Reducing Child Poverty. The primary goal of the working group shall be to develop a national plan for reducing to zero, within specified timeframes, the number of children living in poverty and extreme poverty in the United States.
  • H.R.4074 - Pathways Out of Poverty Act of 2017: This bill establishes and expands various programs related to education, housing, employment, and social welfare. The Department of Education must award grants to states for the development and implementation of prekindergarten programs. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention within the Department of Justice may award grants to assist communities in addressing juvenile delinquency and gang prevention.
  • S.435 - Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act of 2017: This bill establishes the Interagency Council on Multigenerational Poverty to carry out specified objectives and the 2-generation approach, including by providing guidance, and addressing questions pertaining to 2-generation programs and other programs engaging in efforts to break the cycle of multigenerational poverty. The "2-generation approach" means the approach to breaking the cycle of multigenerational poverty by improving family economic security through the implementation of 2-generation pilot programs that create opportunities for, and address the needs of, parents and children together.
  • H.R.6233 - Family Poverty is Not Child Neglect Act: To amend the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act to ensure that child protective services systems do not permit the separation of children from parents on the basis of poverty, and for other purposes





  • Read pages 67 ¶1033, pages 411-12 ¶163  and page 543 ¶6025 of The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church