Poor People’s Campaign to march, rally in DC on Saturday

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Mark Pringle feels the pressure, as a fourth-generation farmer in rural Kansas, to keep his family farm running, even as it’s become increasingly difficult.

He’s dealt with extreme weather, intensified by human-caused climate change; a lack of affordable and accessible mental and physical health care; and a rising cost of living.

So Pringle is traveling to the nation’s capital to march alongside the thousands of people expected to rally Saturday demanding that leaders center the needs of the country’s most vulnerable people, enacting legislation that supports the millions who have been forced into poverty or earning low wages.

“We’re people living in rural areas, and it’s just so important that we tie it all together,” Pringle, 63, said. “This has been going on too long, more and more people being left behind in this country. And it’s always struck us as wrong.”

Rev. William Barber builds a moral movement

The event, called the Mass Poor People’s & Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington, will begin with a Shabbat service at 8:45 am at Freedom Plaza, before participants march toward 3rd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW for the rally. Organizers estimate the crowd will include anywhere from 100,000 to 250,000 people, according to a permit issued by the National Park Service. There will be parking restrictions and street closures.

The demonstration is organized by the Poor People’s Campaign, a resurgence of the movement organized by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. before his death in 1968. Rev. William J. Barber II, a North Carolina preacher who is co-chair of the campaign, said leaders have found inspiration in studying the activism of King and other leaders in the civil rights movement. Saturday’s event will precede Juneteenth, a day that has come to symbolize the end of slavery in the United States.

This is an urgent moment, Barber said, in which poor and low-income people are disproportionately impacted in areas such as health care, housing, gun violence, abortion rights, labor conditions, white supremacy and racism, immigration, the climate crisis and voting restrictions. Inflation is also rising at its fastest pace in four decades, leaving no respite for people who were already struggling to buy groceries, pay for gas or make rent.

DC prepares for Poor People’s Campaign rally, Juneteenth

Barber said the movement aims to bring together people across race, ethnicity, religion and region, as King’s work did, to “shift the moral narrative” and mobilize a voting bloc of poor people who can influence policy everywhere from their hometowns to the US Capitol and White House. The demonstration Saturday, he said, will be an example of the power of poor and low-income people.

“We have people coming from every corner of this country, every race, every creed, every culture, people breaking through all of the lines of divisions,” Barber said. “We’re saying to America: ‘We’re giving you two years. If we don’t see significant movement on things like living wages, we’re going to come back here, but also all across the country and engage every nonviolent to at our disposal.’”

Those gathering Saturday, Barber said, will represent the 140 million people who are poor and low-income, according to the organization’s analysis of the census’s supplemental poverty measure. His group held a memorial service Friday night at the Lincoln Memorial to mourn the more than 1 million Americans who have died of covid-19.

Barber’s organization is advocating for what he calls a Third Reconstruction, an agenda that includes changing the poverty measure to reflect current costs of living, providing paid family and medical leave for all workers, ending all evictions, and raising the minimum wage. Other causes will be folded in, too. Pringle, the Kansas farmer, hopes to raise awareness of those who have died by suicide, including two of his friends who were also farmers, tragedies he linked to working long hours while dealing with major health issues, the cost of farming and the stigma of asking for help.

This revival of the Poor People’s Campaign, focusing on how some of the most pressing issues of today affect the poorest Americans, has organized protests in the nation’s capital for years.

50 years later, the new Poor People’s Campaign lays out a political strategy beyond its Washington rally

Organizers launched 40 days of protest and civil disobedience across the country leading up to a 2018 rally on the Mall to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of “Resurrection City,” when thousands of people camped out on the Mall in 1968 to fight poverty.

Barber also has spoken at the annual March on Washington, to honor King’s historic demonstration. He was arrested alongside Rev. Jesse L. Jackson outside the Capitol last summer while protesting for Congress to end the filibuster, protect voting rights and raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“We know the problem is the lack of political and moral will. This is a redemptive movement, rooted deeply in love and justice and truth. Saturday is not a day; it is not just a march; it is a declaration,” Barber said. “We won’t be silenced, and we won’t be unseen anymore.”

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