All of us who were alive 50 years ago, can remember the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but few us probably remember the Poor People’s Campaign that began on Mothers Day, just a few weeks after King’s death. King was in the process of planning for the campaign when he died.
The campaign wasn’t very successful. It rained almost continuously during the days the protesters camped out on the Washington Mall and the absence of King was notably felt.
The Poor People’s Campaign was part of a change of direction for King during the last few years of his life. He spoke up against the War in Vietnam, he was in Memphis fighting for the sanitation workers when he was killed, and beyond racial justice, he was calling for economic justice, because he saw the connection between the two.
As King said in 1967, “We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together…you can’t really get rid of one without getting rid of the other.”
The plan for a new Poor People’s Campaign builds on King’s concept of the connectedness of these issues but it goes further and looks at a solution. The solution being called for by the 2018 organizers is “a moral revival.”
For decades, the moral narrative most loudly promoted by religious groups set on moving an agenda, has focused on prayer in school, abortion, and gun rights. The call for a moral revival aims to shift the moral message of America to how society treats the poor, those on the margins, the least of these, LGBTQ folks, workers, immigrants, the disabled and the sick.
“Every major religious tradition places challenging oppression and criticizing systems of injustice at the center of its moral considerations. In addition the moral principles of the Constitution are focused on establishing justice for the general welfare.
“We have lost this direction and a moral revival is necessary to change course and save the heart and soul of our democracy,” writes Campaign organizers.
The concept of a moral revival builds upon Dr. William Barber’s Moral Mondays. Barber lead Moral Monday campaigns of civil disobedience in the North Carolina capital in 2013.
“We learned something about extremism: the same folks who were attacking public schools in our state were attacking health care. And the same folks against heat care were against the LGBT community. And they were against labor. And they were attacking immigrants and Muslims and poor people. And to top it all off, the extremists were crying “voter fraud” as a justification for the worst voter suppression measures since Jim Crow,” said Barber. “All of these connections reveal something deeper about our movement: If they were cynical enough to get together on all of these issues, we had to be courageous enough to come out of our single-issue silos and fight together in the streets, in the legislature, in the courts and at the ballot box.
Hence the essence of the new Poor People’s Campaign, set to kick this summer, is based on the following two very sound principals.
1. Taking back the definition of morality to more directly reflect our religious traditions and
2. Working together outside of our silos, across races, genders and political parties to fight for this change.
Of course, we’ll be writing more and following the Poor People’s Campaign as it moves forward to positively affect change.