Yesterday marked the official nationwide launch of what its founders are calling the "Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival." The campaign is calling for "40 days of nonviolent direct action."
Relying on locally based coalitions of activists in communities across the country, it aims to be a revival of the Poor People's Campaign that started in the late 1960s but fizzled when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated 50 years ago last month.
This New Yorker article provides an in-depth look at the campaign and especially of Barber and how he came to lead it.
Although I certainly support the broad goals of the campaign and hope it can make a difference in the lives of poor people, until I read Jelani Cobb's New Yorker piece, I had been feeling an odd mix of ennui and fatigue about a renewed campaign to address problems that have sometimes seemed perpetual in a political system that pays little attention to the most needy among our citizens.
As a boy and then as a young adult I lived through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and '60s and I saw how frustratingly resistant our political and economic systems are to cries for racial and economic justice. That resistance has been especially acute during the Trump presidency.
So I've been wondering what possible good it will do for people to take to the streets again, to batter the doors of statehouses around the country, to cry out for justice and against oppressive systems. I've seen all that before and have been glad for the progress achieved but disappointed that the systemic problems still exist.
After reading the long New Yorker article, however, I am convinced that silence and inaction are not options.
What are the campaign's goals now? As Cobb reports, "This time, the demands include federal and state living-wage laws, equity in education, an end to mass incarceration, a single-payer health-care system, and the protection of the right to vote."
Among the things I like about Barber's approach is that it's theologically based and it's aimed at helping poor people no matter what race they might be. Cobb writes that "Barber has a particular disdain for politicians who use racial rhetoric and voter suppression in order to win elections, but whose agenda is broadly damaging to poor whites as well as blacks. 'They get elected using racial gerrymandering, then enact policies that affect everybody,' he said."
One of the deepest concerns expressed in the Bible has to do with the poor, the needy, the oppressed. The Bible says much, much more about that than almost any other subject. So for people of faith, working to alleviate poverty, racism and economic injustice isn't an option. If this new campaign isn't the way you'd choose to do that, find another way. Just don't do nothing.
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A ROYAL PREACHER
A year ago I had a chance to interview the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry. You can read about that here. Now, it turns out, he's been asked to preach at the upcoming royal wedding in England. It's just a guess, but I bet he'll be terrific.