By Barney Blakeney
The S.C. Poor People’s Campaign in recent months has been strengthening. Last summer the national movement begun in 1968 by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference under Dr. Martin L. King Jr. emerged earlier this year in South Carolina with its 40 Days of Action initiative. Its leadership hopes to continue that activism in 2019.
The S.C. Poor People’s Campaign is part of a growing network of the organization being reformed by former North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber, the architect of the Forward Together Moral Monday Movement and pastor of the Greenleaf Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Goldsboro, N.C. Barber also is president of Repairers of the Breach and the 2015-2016 recipient of the Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship.
In 2017 Barber announced he would join in mounting the effort to revitalize King’s Poor People’s Campaign. That effort has established chapters in some 40 states. In South Carolina Rev. Chuck Rhodes, Aurie Margo Williams and Kieran ‘Kerry’ Taylor are the tri-leaders at the head of the statewide organization.
In a statement of its mission S.C. Poor People’s Campaign says, “Fifty years ago, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., huddled with friends near Beaufort to plan a movement led by the poor, working people and clergy to remake America in accordance with our great moral teachings. King hoped to build from the momentum of earlier civil rights reforms to achieve a peaceful, socially conscious democracy. Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis while mobilizing support for the Poor People’s Campaign. He did not live to see the campaign through.”
Rhodes said the renewed effort is a fusion movement that continues actions which oppose systemic racism, poverty and extensive militarism. It’s doing that by engaging in coordinated and collective nonviolent direct action confronting systemic racism and other forms of discrimination. The first phase of the statewide effort was the ‘40 Days of Action’ over six weeks last May and June. Protests, marches and demonstrations at the S.C. Capitol, Statehouse and Governor’s Mansion ultimately led to multiple arrests. The second phase will accelerate in 2019. Some characteristics of the 2019 effort will include changing the narrative that tends to demonize the poor and blames them for being poor, Rhodes said.
The next phase will involve more observing and strategizing, Williams said. Through a series of hearings around the state, those who are marginalized in our society will be given the opportunity to speak for themselves and tell their own stories. Elected officials will be invited to hear those stories. Currently organizers are developing strategies to connect them. Organizers here are looking at other state groups to learn what works or doesn’t work, Williams said.
“It boils down to putting feet on the ground and talking with people,” she said. “Phase two will tap more into canvassing, educating people politically and about the campaign. The 40 Days of Action put us out there, but obviously a lot of people don’t know about the effort, so we’re really in the baby stages of organizing.” Williams refers to the campaign as an ‘organism’ that’s growing rather than as an organization.
The Poor People’s Campaign of 2017-18 will continue the unfinished business begun by King’s Poor People’s Campaign of 1968, Taylor said. It is an effort to project on partisan politics, economic and wage inequality, disparities in healthcare and education – all moral demands that must meet human needs, Taylor said.
Through partnerships with organizations such as the International Longshoremen’s Union Local 1422 which has provided vital resources and support, the broad movement that is elevating and building strength will become more assertive in 2019, Taylor predicts.