Over the past year I have devoted myself to the work of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for A Moral Revival. This movement is taking place across the nation with active organizing happening in more than 30 states.
In 1968 the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was beginning to publicly articulate the intersecting evils that are racism, poverty, and militarism. He and others were organizing The Poor People’s Campaign, a national occupation of Washington DC that would raise up the voices of people directly impacted by these intersecting oppressions. King was assassinated before the campaign was realized. In the wake of his death The Poor People’s Campaign set up a 3,000-person tent camp on the national mall and demanded economic and human rights for all people. Singing “Everybody’s got a right to live.”
2018 marked the 50thanniversary of King’s assassination and the original Poor People’s Campaign. This year the movement was resurrected. Aiming to unite people across lines that divide and raise up the voices of impacted people to demand that our government address issues of systemic racism, poverty, militarism, ecological devastation, and distorted moral narratives.
We know that systemic racism is present across our country’s institutions including health care, education, criminal justice, and housing.
We know that in the United States poverty affects people of color at higher rates than white people and that the systems in our society are set up to maintain an imbalance of wealth and power.
We know that poor and low-income people and people of color are more likely to live in areas that are experiencing ecological devastation, the effects of pollution, and are less likely to have access to clean water.
We know that 53 cents of every federal discretionary dollar goes to military spending while only 15 cents is spent on anti-poverty programs.
We know that our nations moral narrative is distorted when we tell poor people that they are lazy or just need to work harder but the jobs that are available to them do not pay them a living wage and the ability of people living in poverty to advocate for themselves is undercut by voter suppression.
I want to be a part of this movement because it is addressing systemic issues in an intersectional way, recognizing that these oppressive forces work together to keep people in poverty. I value that this movement is rooted in an historic struggle for liberation and the civil rights movement in our country and that it is committed to affecting change as a multi-year movement. I have gratitude for the fact that my participation in this movement has put me in community with people who I would otherwise very likely have remained isolated from. I appreciate that the Poor People’s Campaign takes the microphone away from people who have privilege and hand it to people who are directly impacted by marginalizing forces.
I am committed to this campaign because I feel as though I am having a direct impact, where it matters. What does that practically look like? I manage the Facebook and the Twitter accounts for the Arkansas chapter. I showed up for non-violent moral fusion direct action during our forty days of action at the state capital. I was arrested for civil disobedience, proclaiming “we won’t be silent anymore.” I educated my community around the systemic issues our platform hopes to address. I’ve worked on voter outreach efforts in my community especially in poor and low-income neighborhoods. I wear this shirt, strangers ask me about it, and I talk to them about poverty. I am committed to participating in the next steps of the movement, whatever they may be.
In the past few years I have become increasingly overwhelmed by the news cycle. I don’t imagine that this is because the world is becoming more violent, dangerous, or devastated – I think it’s probably been that way all along. Instead I believe my conscious awareness of the injustices of this world has risen. This is probably true for lots of people like me.
Ever since I can remember I’ve had a heart for making this world a better place. I’ve always poured my time and energy into efforts that I thought would create the change I want to see in the world. As my awareness of need increased so did my feelings of obligation to show up. There are endless opportunities to show up. I tried for a while to show up for everything. Every march for a cause I believed in, every group meeting, every fundraiser and benefit event. Trying to show up for every worthy thing was impossible, plus I had a sense of compassion fatigue that only contributed to my feeling of overwhelm instead fulfilling my motivation of alleviating it. I knew that I couldn’t, and didn’t want to give up. It wasn’t like I was going to stop caring or wanting to contribute to making a difference. But my tactics needed to change if I was going to be in it for the long haul.
In the Arkansas Poor People’s Campaign, I discovered a movement that is working to address my core value of respecting the dignity of every human being. I found an organization where my skills and gifts are needed and make an impact. Some days I still feel overwhelmed. But most days I feel like a have a place and a role in creating change in my community. I still show up for other causes when I can. Yet, instead of spreading myself thin I pour my time and energy into this one thing that aligns with my passion. Instead of draining me, this act is lifegiving. It is because of this that I am encouraged to persist.