On June 19, thousands of people gathered just blocks from Congress for the Mass Poor Peoples and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls.
They raised their voices against some of the most pressing issues facing the nation—including poverty, environmental degradation, the war economy, and voting rights—and called for a new national agenda that prioritizes poor and low-income communities. The event was led by the Poor People’s Campaign, in association with FCNL and hundreds of other mobilizing partners.
The Poor People’s Campaign was Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s final movement before his death in 1968. Today’s iteration, led by Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, seeks to fulfill King’s vision of an equitable world where poor people are given a fighting chance. The central demand of the movement is a Third Reconstruction that addresses “interlocking injustices” facing poor people in America, including systemic racism and militarism.
The movement and its demands are deeply rooted in faith, something highlighted by Barber and FCNL General Secretary Bridget Moix in a recent op-ed published in The Hill. “As people of faith,” they wrote, “we are pained by a society that devalues the lives of children and of the 140 million Americans who live in poverty or have such low incomes that they could not afford a $400 emergency.”
The speeches on Saturday were headlined by Barber, Rev. Dr. Bernice King, and Rev. Dr. Cornel West, and also featured speakers from all 50 states. While the speeches touched on different issues, from immigration to healthcare, the core message was clear: the 140 million poor and low-income Americans will not be silent anymore. “People keep asking, ‘How much does it cost?’ rather than ask the real question, ‘How much does it cost for things to stay like they are?’” Barber said.
One major theme was the impact of militarization and war on human needs. “There are poor and homeless veterans all over this country,” said Angela Montalvo, veteran and co-chair of the Nebraska Poor People’s Campaign. “We must stand together to demand an end to this war economy that benefits the wealthy at the cost of poor people’s lives and health.”
Many speakers also noted that the opportunity cost of spending money on war was just as great as the direct impacts. “Responding to all these injustices, everyone is told, ‘There’s no money’… it’s a lie,” said Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. “There is money, but where is that money going? 52 cents of every federal dollar is going to the Pentagon.”
You can watch an archived livestream of the event here.