New Poor People’s March Kicks Off This Spring

Rev. Dr. William Barber II

By Barrington M. Salmon

( – For more than a year, the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, former North Carolina NAACP president, has been crisscrossing the country issuing a clarion call of resistance against arch-conservative forces that attack civil rights and economic justice gains.

He has sought to unify activists, social justice soldiers, concerned citizens, the oppressed and marginalized. He has spoken unrelentingly about the grave twin dangers posed by a hostile Trump administration and a reemerging White nationalism – both of which have targeted African Americans, poor whites, Latinos, Muslims, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups.

What America is witnessing, Rev. Barber has explained, is a modern-day incarnation and the product of more than a century of concerted efforts by White extremists to erase any progress made by African- Americans, women and progressives in America.

“We’re witnessing a fundamental changing of our demographics around the world,” said Barber, president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach. “We see extremist policies in America today and it’s driven by the growing blackening and browning of America and a fusion of every creed, color and class.”

He continues, “Those who embrace the Make America Great Again slogan are willing to work hard and cheat to undermine what is evolving in America,” said Barber, a prominent national activist and an unapologetic voice of resistance to the Trump administration’s hard move to the right. “This is White hegemony and White nationalism strengthened by enormous wealth.”

Trump, he asserts, isn’t the problem, but merely a symptom of America’s moral sickness. He told an audience of several hundred people at the “Real State of Our Union” panel discussion on Jan. 30 that America is in the midst of a Third Reconstruction.

We live in a season of moral crisis, Rev. Barber said. He says that one effective way to fight the greed, racism, poverty, denial of health care, xenophobia, voter suppression, warmongering and other ills is the formation of a New Poor People’s Campaign – a revival of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign that began 50 years ago in the spring of 1968, but was eclipsed by his assassination on April 4 that year.

Rev. Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis of the Kairos Network are co-chairs of the New Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Coalition organizers, including the Fight for $15 movement, said they plan to kick off rallies in cities around the mid-South beginning this spring to raise people’s consciousness about the plight of the nation’s poor.

In 2016, the federal government invested $183 billion in social programs but shuttled $630 billion dollars to the Department of Defense to pay for wars and maintenance of the country’s war machine. In contrast, Rev. Barber told the audience of several hundred at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, DC, that more than 140 million Americans – including 31 million children – are poor or near-poor. Tens of millions of adults are mired in poverty despite holding jobs, suffering food and housing insecurity and facing uncertainty because they don’t make enough to afford rent, food, medications or have the ability to care for themselves and their children.

Organizers of the anti-low wage organization, Fight for $15, had planned to join thousands of cooks and cashiers as they walked off their jobs Feb. 12 and marched in two dozen cities. Feb. 12 is the 50th anniversary of the historic Memphis sanitation strike.

Coalition members say they’re carrying on the fight for higher wages and union rights led by hundreds of Black municipal workers, whose 1968 walkout became a rallying cry of the Poor People’s Campaign led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After the march, workers and their allies will participate in six weeks of direct action and non-violent civil disobedience beginning May 13, Mother’s Day.

The new campaign unites two of the nation’s most powerful social movements in a common fight for strong unions to lift people of all races out of poverty, organizers said. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the nation’s largest unions, is powering the new campaign. The union has been instrumental in helping organize fast-food workers across the nation; persuaded states and cities to raise their minimum wage; and has provided much of money and organizational muscle and money behind the Fight for $15 campaign.

The new campaign will follow part of the blueprint of Dr. King’s old campaign, Barber said, by building a movement across racial lines and across an array of issues. In his travels, he said, he has spoken to Native Americans, working class and poor White, immigrants, gay, bisexual and straight people, all of whom have committed to the campaign and also to upending the oppression in the current system.

“These policies have hurt the worst of these,” said Rev. Barber. “In the Bible, there’s a greater adultery: whoring after other gods. They are against justice and they use their power to inflict pain on the poor and vulnerable. Congress allows him to be a distraction while he undermines the deconstruction of the American Experiment.”

Reminding the audience of the perils of American history, Barber said, “We act as though there’s no past. But this is the call and response of American history, the iconography of the American stream of history.”

He called cast-off Americans – criminalized children, the working poor, those whose medical care has been snatched by greedy politicians, and maligned immigrants – dry bones which will become the army of morality and justice to confront and defeat America’s dishonest and immoral politicians and moribund system.

“God told Ezekiel, ‘that’s your Army,” said Rev. Barber. “Preach to the dry bones and they’ll come together. I met a young woman in Seattle who said she’s the White trash they forgot to burn. I went to the Apache nations and sat in the circle with them, I met with national welfare rights people who said they’re ready for one more fight.”

He conclude, “We’re going to make a Third Reconstruction. We’re not going to give up on the American Project. Too many tears have been cried, too much blood has been shed, and there’s an army rising. We’ll be able to break every chain. They shouldn’t have called us ‘sh­_t’. We know how to take that stuff, make it fertilizer and build a new movement.”

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