Photo: Steve Pavey / Poor People’s Campaign
NEW YORK—With calls for a moral revival and Third Reconstruction, the Poor People’s Campaign entered the belly of the capitalist beast Monday, April 11th, as hundreds marched through the Wall Street financial district and then joined together for a community meeting at Trinity Church. The protestors paused in front of the New York Stock Exchange to exclaim the violent consequences of the activity that goes on within those walls and within the greater capitalist system.
The campaign continues to examine how the extreme wealth generated here bears the marks of mass dispossession and disenfranchisement for the 140 million poor and low-income people of this nation. This is a time in which the dividing line of wealth has become increasingly extreme, where billionaires have increased their wealth by over $2 trillion during a global pandemic while greater numbers plunge into the scourge of poverty.
Not only this, but the $21 trillion spent on war, policing, surveillance, and prisons over the past couple decades comes at the cost of a living income, healthcare, clean water, and even a livable planet, which climate scientists now project will become unlivable by the end of the century if significant action is not immediately taken. Public housing activist Brenda Temple spoke about the essential need to reinvestment in public housing and the disastrous effects of housing privatization on working class people everywhere:
Temple is a resident of Oceanside Houses in Far Rockaway Queens. The Oceanside houses is one of over 250 public housing developments in New York City, owned and operated by NYC Housing Authority NYCHA.
“I’m speaking for all public housing residents throughout our country,” she said. “I and the Committee for Independent Community Action are leading a New York City wide petition campaign to demand Mayor Eric Adams stop the privatization of public housing and support residents.”
Temple noted that the NYCHA has “allowed the conditions of our homes, the homes to over 500,000 New Yorkers, to decay, rot and poison our people. NYCHA and the city of New York have been implementing a plan to get management of public housing over to private developers, who will make a lot of money on our backs. Privatization of public housing ends public housing as we know it and that means a mass eviction, an exodus of hard-working poor people.”
Underlying the Poor People’s Campaign is the struggle to articulate and mobilize people around the interwoven dynamics of class, race, environment, gender, war, and immigration, bringing about a “national call for moral revival.” Among those marching were members of various faiths and faith groups, which coalesce on the basis of a moral vision of what society should be and how far our current world order fails to produce the conditions for love and justice to collectively prevail.
Rev. Dr. William Barber III stated that the Poor People’s Campaign represents the shared struggles of many groups which make this coalitional work possible, saying “We’ve got the professional staff with hundreds mobilizing; you’ve got United University Professions, Islamic Center of North America, Brooklyn For Peace, Move the Money Coalition, Code PINK, Campaign for New York Health, SEIU 1199, Citizens Action, Sisters of Mercy, Focus Breakfast Food Pantry, and many many others. But most importantly we have real people. People who everyday mobilize their lives and deal with the meanness of the system. It’s time for the rejected to lead a justice revival.”
The Poor People’s Campaign speaks of the need for power from below to “revive and renew the heart and soul of democracy” through “compelling the nation to mourn, feel the pain and power of our people, and see that the path of healing and justice is possible,” Barber said.
The Poor People’s Campaign thus seeks to heal the rifts caused by the dichotomies that turn poor and working people against each other, whether that be through race, gender, nationality, or even political orientation.
Within this analysis, the Reverend spoke of the “false choices” of liberal vs. conservative and right vs. left, grounding instead what he calls “the essential question of our time: right vs wrong!” Yet the choice of right vs. wrong is here not an empty moral schema, nor is it idealistically opposed to a concrete material evaluation of the present. Rev. Barber, though steeped in the language of faith, has no difficulty speaking in the language of a historical and material critique of capitalism as a destructive and wasteful economic system.
As we made our way into Trinity Church, which stands but a few steps removed from the devil’s lair known as the New York Stock Exchange, Barber pronounced: “Poor people, low wage workers, the time is now! Our politics are trapped in the lies of scarcity. The lies of scarcity keep alive the lies of trickle down economics and the lies of neoliberalism, which leave people out. Forms of Christian nationalism, racism, militarism and climate devastation, you’ve got a mess. These kinds of politics turn us against each other. Blame the poor for their poverty even though we live in the midst of abundance. We know that poverty is not a personal choice as a political consequence of policies. We have the resources to meet the needs of everybody, the only thing we don’t have enough of is moral consciousness and the will to do what’s right.”
What is wrong with America thus has to do with what is wrong with the American system, which is more than a collection of beliefs and practices, but a historically-determined order that systematically deprives the masses of its people for the sake of reaping profits and financial gains that accrue to the very few.
The Poor People’s Campaign will continue to examine the conditions of capitalism that put people in positions of economic subjugation and will bring the fight forward on the ground, with a large national action planned for June 18th in Washington D.C.
TAKE ACTION: Sign up here to take part in what is shaping up to be one of the largest national actions in years to represent directly the poor and the workers at the footsteps of the halls of power that for too long have mainly represented the interests of Wall Street.
Turner Roth is a writer, organizer, and member of the Communist Party and the New York Young Communist League. He lives and works in New York City.
Jacob Buckner writes from New York.
People’s World, April 19, 2022, https://www.peoplesworld.org/