by Adam Thada
The original Poor People's Campaign was organized in 1968 by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., when "mule trains" of poor people from around the country converged to D.C. and set up an encampment. They demanded that the concern of poor folk would be addressed. This was tied directly to three linked evils that MLK identified: racism, poverty, and the war economy.
The modern campaign is a re-inauguration of the original vision. The "Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival" is co-chaired by Rev. Dr. William Barber (Disciples of Christ) and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharris (Presbyterian Church USA). The rally in D.C. this weekend was the culmination of 40 days of rallies and direct action at state capitals. The Indiana team had been meeting weekly in Indianapolis, at the Capitol building, Monument Circle, and the Governor's mansion. At each rally we heard from Hoosiers who had been impacted by racism, poverty, war, and ecological devastation. Following the speeches (and songs led by our "theomusicologist") a subset of trained moral witnesses committed civil disobedience to draw attention to the demands of the Poor People's Campaign. Those of us who were able stood vigil outside the county jail waiting for their release.
I work for the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ (a Catholic order of women religious) who have been sending people to the rallies. I travelled with a group from the Indiana Poor People's Campaign to D.C. to join 40 other state chapters from across the country. We shared stories, music, and testimony on the National Mall and then marched together to the Capitol building to deliver our demands. The testimonies were so powerful that we were often left silent and tear-filled.
I travelled with a young South Bend man who was arrested at the Indiana Capitol building earlier in the campaign. He set off to D.C. in our carpool as Jesus said to -- with no food or money and completely broke. The loaves were multiplied for him, and together we made it. His stories of resilience and hope in the face of homelessness, chronic poverty, and racism left me speechless. We returned to South Bend Sunday night and drove by the new statue of MLK downtown. As we passed, he noted, "They found money to put up a fancy statue of Dr. King but they didn't address the suffering of our people down the street." That left my mind spinning.
Anyway, we are trying to build a movement, not a moment. There will be many ways to help. I have friends who are dealing with chronic illness and can barely make it through the day, let alone travel, but they feel that they are aligned with the Poor People's Campaign as well.
Addendum: a dozen faith leaders were arrested at the Capitol Tuesday. Photo and statement at https://www.facebook.com/304443552992102/posts/1342614335841680/