Angela Davis talks activism, communism and ‘wokeness’ at UTC MLK Day event / by Carmen Nesbitt

Contributed Photo by Angela Foster/UTC UTC Communications Department Head Felicia McGhee (left) interviews Angela Davis, MLK Day series speaker, Tuesday in the Roland Hayes Auditorium.

Originally posted in Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 24, 2023

Human rights activist Angela Davis spoke Tuesday at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where she discussed her life as a political activist and the future of progressivism.

Davis’ appearance marked the 10th year of the university’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day speaker series and was the first time the event had been held in person since 2020 due to COVID-19.

Every seat in the Roland Hayes Concert Hall was taken. Attendees included community members, UTC staff and students and high schoolers from The Howard School and Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences.

UTC’s Communications Department head, Felicia McGhee, interviewed Davis on stage, asking about her past, her views on “wokeness” and her affiliation with the Communist Party.

Davis was born on Jan. 26, 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama. She was an active member in the Communist Party and the Black Panther Party and a prominent figure during the civil rights movement.

She is most famous for her involvement with three inmates, known as the Soledad brothers, who were charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of a California prison guard in 1970. Davis was charged with aggravated kidnapping and first-degree murder of a judge following an incident connected with the case and went into hiding, landing her on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. She was later acquitted of those charges.

Since, she has authored 10 books and numerous articles and essays. She is the distinguished professor emerita of history of consciousness — an interdisciplinary doctoral program — and of feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. During the past 25 years, she has lectured in all 50 states in the U.S., Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and the former Soviet Union.

“I can’t remember a time when I was not aware that we needed to change our world,” Davis said. “Whenever we as children complained about things that we were not able to do, because Black children weren’t allowed to go to amusement parks, Black children weren’t allowed to go to the museums. Our schools were segregated schools, (they) were broken-down wooden shacks. So, whenever I would complain about that, my mother would always say, ‘This is not the way things are supposed to be, and they will change.'”

She said while the event was to honor Martin Luther King Jr., the fight for Black liberation wasn’t fought alone.

“We never gave up,” she said. “Hundreds of years and Black people still never gave up, then managed to pass down that impulse to fight for freedom from one generation to the next.”

In 1980 and 1984, she unsuccessfully ran for U.S. vice president on a Communist Party ticket.

“When you say the word ‘communism,’ people don’t like that,” McGhee said. “Why do you think that word causes so many connotations?”

“It’s because of the fact that we live in a capitalist society, a society, that is, that values profit more than people,” Davis replied. “Capitalism, by the way, was produced by slavery. That was the first primitive accumulation of capital.”

McGhee asked Davis how she feels when she hears the word “woke.”

“It’s great to wake up, isn’t it?” Davis said. “But we should always be aware that no change that really makes a difference is going to be without its detractors, is going to be without those who want to conserve the old way of doing things.”

She made mention of recent efforts across the nation by conservative groups to ban books and limit discussions of race in public schools.

“And now they want to tell us how Black history is to be taught,” Davis said. “And Black studies emerged out of an effort to be more critical in the way we think about history, the way we think about culture, the way we think about the world. And I believe the majority of the people in this country are on the right track. I really do.”

She encouraged the youth in the audience to never stop questioning.

“I do think it is always important to think critically, to think in ways that question the text that you’re reading, that question the conditions of your life,” Davis said. “I think raising questions is the most important aspect of education.”

She concluded the interview with three pieces of advice:

— Combine patience with urgency.

— Take leadership from young people because young people are closest to the future.

— Be critical and self-critical.


Carmen Nesbitt before joining the Times Free Press spent two years covering education and public health at Flint Beat in Michigan. She is a Michigan native and a graduate of the University of Michigan, where she earned a bachelor’s in English and minored in French. She also earned her master’s in journalism from Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich. Follow her on Twitter at @carmen_nesbitt.

To defeat imperialism, build a movement for peace / by Joe Sims

The following remarks were presented by Joe Sims at the CPUSA International Conference 2022: Dismantling Imperialism in the 21st Century, Sept. 10, 2022

Good afternoon, comrades,

And greetings to all and especially to our fraternal parties and those who have joined us from abroad. We’re glad to have you with us. We hope everyone is staying safe and strong and staying in the fight because we’ve got some big battles ahead.

And speaking of big battles, comrades, just over a week ago our party celebrated 103 years of struggle. Our 103rd birthday! Can you imagine? And it’s been quite a century. Think about it: This party has witnessed the October Revolution; two world wars; the birth of the CIO; the defeat of colonialism in Asia, Africa, and Latin America; and the death of legal Jim Crow in our country — which we helped put in the grave.

We’ve lived through two Red Scares and the civil rights revolution, and we were able to see Nelson Mandela walk free. In these years, we watched with anguish the collapse of the Soviet Union, but also with tears of joy Cuba’s liberation, Vietnam’s triumph, and Venezuela’s ongoing transformation. And I haven’t started talking about China.

We are also well aware that these were the 100 years in which U.S. imperialism declared the American century, the era when the U.S. ruling class would shape a new world order.  But this new order led to the disorder of the Cold War and U.S. intervention in nearly every corner of the globe. And do I need to remind you today this was made possible by the largest and most expensive military build-up in history. In 2021 alone the defense budget nearly topped $800 billion.

But the costs are nearly incalculable, not only measured materially in the millions of lives lost in military interventions or in the destruction of the environment but also in loss of intangibles like hope and trust, a belief in human equality, and, most recently, in the loss of a woman’s right to have control over her own body.

It was Martin Luther King Jr. who, years ago, in his famous speech at Riverside Church opposing the war in Vietnam said, “The security we seek in foreign adventures, we lose in decaying cities. The bombs dropped in Vietnam, explode here at home. They destroy the hopes and possibilities for a decent America.”

And he was right. It’s happened over and again: In the 1970s with nuclear armed Pershing missiles placed in Europe while steel towns shut down in Ohio; in the 1990s with Black Hawk helicopters going down in Somalia while NAFTA closed down jobs in Michigan; and in the 2000s when, instead of searching Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, they should have been searching Wall Street for the weapons of mass deception used to rob Black and Latino homeowners in that sub-prime rip-off  — they almost brought down the world economy and we still haven’t recovered from it.

And it continues today. The U.S. ruling class has not given up its designs for an American century. But achieving it is a much more difficult proposition now than before. While U.S. imperialism is in many respects still dominant, it faces stiff competition from other imperialist centers in the European Union, Japan, Russia, the Middle East, and other countries. The planet’s multipolarity is growing. And of course, China’s ascendance has everyone taking another look.

In these circumstances, global problems like climate change and new ones like the COVID pandemic abound. But despite their severity, imperialism seems intent on using the same old bullying tactics and attempts to dictate terms. The Trump administration targeted China, seemed to curry favor with Russia, and rattled Europe while attempting to isolate Cuba and overthrow Venezuela. And many have asked why, while promising a change, the Biden policy seems a not-so-faint echo of Trump’s, particularly with respect to China. Notwithstanding their denials, a Cold War 2.0 is in the making.

This Cold War thinking was pointedly challenged by progressive forces before the Ukraine war started. Citing the urgency of climate change, 33 environmental organizations challenged the Biden administration to end the trade wars and reach out to China and seek agreement on global warming. Bernie Sanders joined with them. A few months before that, half of the Democratic caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives voted against what proved to be a successful GOP/Blue Dog effort to increase the defense budget over and above what Biden initially asked for which was way too much in the first place.

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changed everything, at least for the moment, and a ruling-class consensus seems to have emerged. But the question for us is how deep that consensus lies and by what means can it be shaken. And this requires a long, hard, and objective look at the balance of forces in the country and where the greatest pressure can be brought to bear to effect it. The big question is how, in these circumstances, can a peace movement be built, and along what lines?

What are the circumstances? Well for one, the fascist danger, while set back two years ago, has not receded. There’s a slow-moving coup taking place in states across the country with the aim of suppressing the vote and, if that doesn’t work, overruling it. The majority faction in the Republican party now takes the position that they will not accept losing an election. Period. They believe that anything goes, including taking up arms to prevent an election loss from happening. As we’ve been saying for some time, that’s fascist by definition.

On the other hand, the Democrats, while now correctly characterizing the MAGA danger, also equate all who stand up to U.S. imperialism with the same authoritarian brush. What do we do? Is it plague on both your houses? Do we stand aside? Or do we get busy and, by our mass work, fight to create conditions in which we are able to move developments in a better direction? To put it another way, under what circumstances will we be in a better position to build a mass movement for peace? Will it be under the rule of that fascist movement that has just outlawed abortion, now threatens to overturn gay marriage, denies climate change, and now threatens to pardon the January 6th insurrectionists? Or will it be with the people’s front that, with all of its inconsistencies, half measures, and hesitations, support choice, voting rights, union rights, and being allowed to marry whom you love?

But what about the almost identical foreign policy, you ask? And you have a point. But to address it, let’s draw a lesson from history. Let’s remember what happened with Martin. Remember that speech I quoted earlier? He was murdered a year later. But before he died supporting Memphis sanitation workers on the picket line, he taught an invaluable lesson. You see, he understood that the African American people needed allies, even inconsistent ones. The equation was pretty clear. The GOP opposed civil rights. So did the Dixiecrats. But a section of the Dems supported ending segregation. All of them supported the war in Vietnam.

But Martin and others set themselves the task of building a mass movement that isolated the GOP, shamed the Dixiecrats, and made some switch sides. The result was the Civil Rights revolution. It was a big democratic breakthrough. But that was just the beginning. Martin then turned his attention to questions of war and peace. And he started to leverage that democratic breakthrough for the cause for peace in Vietnam. Oh, it was tough going. In fact, all hell broke loose, and important sections of the civil rights community balked. But Martin had a notion, and the movement for democracy joined hands with those opposing the war. Martin was murdered, but the writing was on the wall, mainly because the Vietnamese won the war on the battlefield. But the U.S. peace movement played no small role.

A year later in 1969 Nixon began withdrawing troops, and in 1973  Madam Nguyen Thi-Binh led the Vietnamese delegation to Paris and the peace treaty was signed.

The issue before us today is similar. The MAGA GOP opposes civil rights, abortion rights, and marriage equality. Some of the Dems are wavering; others understand the stakes. And like Vietnam days, most of them support a rotten foreign policy. But just as Martin and his coalition needed broader allies back then, we need them today.

We must continue to build a mass movement around democratic and class questions — a movement that isolates the GOP and neutralizes those wavering — and win important democratic victories in the next Congress. This is how we can build the leverage, like Martin taught us, from these democratic breakthroughs that can advance the cause of peace.

But to do this we’ve got to do more than vote. We’ve got to overcome the crisis of inaction. That means we’ve got to strike, register to vote, occupy, rally, and protest. And we’ve got to be creative in our tactics. In New York our comrades are going to set up picket lines at the offices of corporations who are contributing to campaigns of the over 100 GOP members of the House who supported the coup.

And we’ve also got to run our own candidates. But right now the deadline is November. Now I know some of us are not going to want to get tainted by getting involved in electoral work this fall for fear that it’s going to leave a bad taste in your mouth. I understand that. But I also know that those who fear the bad taste of things are likely to fail. Bourgeois politics ain’t pure; in fact, it can be down-right dirty. But know this: We’re fighting fascism — not your garden-variety conservatism. We want expanded workers’ rights, abortion, voting, and other democratic rights; we want peace; and we want a clean and healthy planet. But to move forward, we have to shove aside the threat of fascism. You’ve got to be in the fight to win it. So let’s unite in the fight against fascist imperialism, neoliberal imperialism, and imperialism in all its forms. Let’s open up space for a democratic breakthrough. Let’s build the people’s front for a new anti-racist, anti-sexist, pro-working-class new tomorrow. And let’s build the Communist Party. Solidarity forever!


Images:  Anti-war protest at MLK monument in D.C., CodePink (Facebook); Foreclosed home, respres (CC BY 2.0); Trump speaking at rally, Jan. 6, 2021, Voice of America, Wikipedia (public domain); Signing of Civil Rights Act of 1964, Cecil Stoughton, Wikipedia (public domain); Poor People’s Campaign March on Washington, June 18, 2022, Dylan Manshack.

Joe Sims is co-chair of the Communist Party USA. He is also a senior editor of People’s World and loves biking.    

“Fight poverty, not the poor!”: Thousands rally in Washington DC / by Tanupriya Singh

Photo: AP

Labor unions, civil society and religious groups joined the Poor People’s Campaign on June 18 to demand justice and redressal for the 140 million people in the US facing poverty and growing insecurity

The Poor People’s Campaign organized a massive rally in Washington DC on June 18. Photo: Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II/Twitter

Thousands of people gathered in the US capital of Washington DC on June 18 to participate in the ‘Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls’. The action was organized by the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) to address a broad range of interconnected issues affecting the country’s 140 million poor and low wealth people– including access to health care and housing, systemic racism, the climate crisis, and rising militarism.

The PPC was joined by labor unions, religious organizations, and several climate action, human rights, and civil society groups. The rally took place over 50 years since the PPC was first founded and organized by civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, shortly before his assassination.

Speaking before the gathering on Saturday, Reverend Dr. Bernice A. King stated, “54 years ago my father launched the Poor People’s Campaign to revolutionize the economic landscape of our nation. Unfortunately Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did not live long enough to see it come to fruition.”

“However, on June 19th, 1968 my mother Coretta Scott King was here in the nation’s capital,” King proclaimed, “to deliver a very powerful message on poverty…she made the appeal that poverty is not only a longstanding evil of this nation, but an actual act of violence against the dignity, livelihood, and humanity of its citizens.”

Poor in the US under attack

Before COVID-19, according to the PPC, an estimated 250,000 people died each year in the US from poverty and inequality. The pandemic exacerbated existing social and economic inequalities, with deadly consequences for already marginalized and vulnerable communities. In a report released in April, the PPC found that people in poorer counties died at a rate upto five times higher than their counterparts in wealthier counties.

“We know this can’t be simply explained by way of vaccination results, its related to the discrimination in our policy towards poor and low-wealth people,” said Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II, the co-chair of the Campaign. Counties classified as the poorest in the report had more than half of their population in poverty, and people of color were over-represented. The rates of people without insurance were twice as high as compared to the counties with the highest median incomes.

“The regressive policies that produce 140 million poor and low wealth people are not benign. They are forms of policy murder,” added Barber. It is important to note that this figure includes 43% of all adults, 52% of children, and 73% of women in the US.

Prior to the pandemic, 28 million adults in the US did not have health insurance. An additional 9 million people lost insurance after losing their jobs due to COVID-19. The drastic extent to which the lack of health insurance impacted the lives of people during COVID-19 was quantified in a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. Researchers found that from the beginning of the pandemic until March 2022, universal health care could have saved the lives of 338,000 people from COVID-19 alone.

52 million people in the US, especially in the Southern states, are working for less than $15 an hour. Meanwhile, in May, the price of a gallon of gas exceeded the federal minimum wage in several areas. Fed up with government inaction and corporate greed at a time when working conditions were quite literally life threatening, workers across the US led a historic wave of strike actions and protests in 2021.

Millions across the US are also facing housing insecurity, at a time when states are pushing to criminalize homelessness. Rents are also rising sharply amid a 40 year peak in inflation. A US Census Household Pulse Survey found that 8.8 million people were behind on rent payments from April 27 to May 9, 2022. Once again, people of color and low income households are particularly vulnerable.

Before the pandemic, 53 cents of every federal discretionary dollar was diverted towards the military, and only 15 cents were put towards anti-poverty programs. According to anti-war grassroots organization CODEPINK, since the start of the pandemic, the US government’s expenditure on nuclear weapons has been 7.5 times higher than its support for global medical needs.

Photo: CODEPINK/Twitter

Now is not the time for silence!

“Such is the time now for a mass moral meeting in the streets…we can’t be silent anymore!,” stated Rev. Barber. “This is a movement until children are protected, until sick folk are healed, until low wage workers are paid, until immigrants are treated fairly, until affordable housing is provided, until the atmosphere, the land, and the water are protected,” he added.

Speakers also highlighted other pressing issues including racism within the criminal justice system, the curtailing of reproductive health care and abortion rights, and the ongoing theft and destruction of Indigenous lands.

In the face of the rising attack on the poor and working class masses across the US, the Poor People’s Campaign has also called for the implementation of a Third Reconstruction Agenda, following the First Reconstruction after the Civil War and the Second Reconstruction during the civil rights movement. On May 20th, the PPC joined lawmakers Pramila Jayapal and Barbara Lee as they presented the ‘Third Reconstruction: Fully Addressing Poverty and Low Wages From the Bottom Up’ congressional resolution.

“It reflects an omnibus vision to restructure our society from the bottom up, recognizing that in order to build a true Third Reconstruction, we must simultaneously deal with the interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation and the denial of health care, militarism, and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism that blames the poor instead of the systems that cause poverty,” stated the PPC.

The Campaign has also focused its efforts on mobilizing poor and low wealth people against voter suppression, including attacks on the Voting Rights Act. According to the PPC, poor and low-income people account for one third of the electorate. Almost 20 states across the US passed laws in 2021 to curtail voting rights in one form another, affecting an estimated 55 million people.

Ahead of the mid-term elections in November, the PPC has put forth a series of demands, including that Congress publicly acknowledge “the reality and pain of 140 million poor and low wealth people,” and that it commit to creating and supporting legislation that reflects the Third Reconstruction Agenda. It has also called upon President Joe Biden to host a White House Poverty Summit and to commit to an Executive Action Plan to Eliminate Poverty in 2022.

The PPC has also announced another mass mobilization in Washington DC in September, to join 5,000 poor and low wealth people and religious leaders along with 100 economists in “nonviolent moral direction action.” It has also launched a 143-day countrywide effort to register and educate poor and low-income communities to vote in every election for candidates who will commit to a Third Reconstruction Agenda.


People’s Dispatch, June 20, 2022, https://peoplesdispatch.org/

Martin Luther King Jr Dreamed of a Society Without Poverty. We Can Achieve It / by Jeffrey Nall

Dr Martin Luther King Jr in Montgomery, Alabama, May 1956. (Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

Martin Luther King Jr once said that there’s “nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American citizen.” Decades after his assassination, we can realize his vision of an economically just society.

In our highly polarized political climate, Americans can agree on few things. One rare point of unity is the legacy of Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr, whom 90 percent of Americans view favorably — a considerably higher percentage than when he was alive.

Our nation’s collective memory of King is perhaps best summed up by the “fun facts” coloring page my son brought home from his first grade classroom in 2019. A cartoon depiction of King stands in the center of the page holding two flags, one reading “freedom” and the other reading “equality.” Surrounding him are four statements:

“I was a key leader in the American Civil Rights Movement.”

“I believed in, and fought for, equal rights for African Americans.”

“I helped end legal segregation and discrimination in the United States.”

“My famous speech, ‘I Have a Dream,’ promoted freedom and equality for all.”

The King most of us honor each year fits neatly with the vision of our nation triumphantly overcoming its immoral missteps, making King’s dream — the American dream — a reality. Our nation’s unjust past becomes further evidence of its greatness since we generated not only the injustice but also the solution to that injustice. Racial segregation was a test, and we passed.

But this vision of King, however unifying, is ultimately a fable that serves the economically and politically powerful, who are themselves standing in the way of progress toward the just society he died struggling to build. This fable hollows out King’s most incisive social critiques and dulls his prophetic philosophy of social transformation in the service of love. Central to that vision was the elimination of economic inequality.

Breaking Silence About Economic Injustice

On April 4, 1967, one year before his death, Reverend King delivered his boldest national address, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” King called for the United States to withdraw from Vietnam and begin a “radical revolution of values” by channeling the millions of dollars spent on war to address the dire needs of the nation’s poor. He contended that the “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism” reinforced one another, preventing the flourishing of a truly just society.

King came to this conclusion after observing that millions of black people remained in dire conditions even as important advances had been made in civil rights, including ending segregation and expanding voting rights. As early as the bus boycott years, King had argued that those in power pit poor whites against ethnic minorities to prevent poor people from working collaboratively to change the social order.

King understood that black people and other minorities disproportionately bore the burden of poverty. But he also knew that all of the poor, including the millions of poor whites, were economically oppressed. In a December 1967 speech, “Nonviolence and Social Change,” King said:

In our society it is murder, psychologically, to deprive a man of a job or an income. You are in substance saying to that man that he has no right to exist. You are in a real way depriving him of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, denying in his case the very creed of his society.

In his book Where Do We Go From Here, also published in 1967, King wrote that the United States could initiate this transition by guaranteeing a livable minimum annual income for every American family as well as ensuring all workers, regardless of industry, are paid a fair wage.

There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American citizen whether he be a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid or day laborer. There is nothing except shortsightedness to prevent us from guaranteeing an annual minimum — and livable — income for every American family.

King’s Other Dream

In what would be the last months of his life, King joined fellow organizers in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in planning a Poor People’s Campaign. The intent was to bring together two thousand poor people from all different ethnic-cultural walks of life to set up an encampment in Washington DC culminating in a new march on Washington, like the one in 1963 where he gave his famed “I Had a Dream” speech. The aim was to pressure leaders in the federal government to commit $12 billion to address systemic poverty.

During a 1967 planning meeting, King said, “I think it is necessary for us to realize that we have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights.” King and SCLC intended to draw on their organizing knowledge and expertise in nonviolent civil disobedience to do for economic justice what their movement had achieved for civil rights with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights of 1965.

On April 3, 1968, King joined striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. The following day, he was assassinated. He was murdered just two months before the Poor People’s March.

After his death, the SCLC, led by King’s colleague Ralph Abernathy, followed through with the plan. The campaign launched in Washington DC on May 12 with a Mother’s Day march, led by Coretta Scott King, through poor neighborhoods. A month later, on June 19, more than fifty thousand people marched to the capital demanding economic rights. An ensuing encampment of about three thousand people from a wide array of ethnic background occupied the National Mall in what was dubbed “Resurrection City” for forty-two days.

US Economic Inequality

More than fifty years after King’s assassination and the summer of the Poor People’s Campaign, the Federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 an hour. For perspective, the federal minimum wage of 1968 ($1.60) had the buying power of more than $11 in today’s money. According to Oxfam, 43.7 percent of workers in the United States earned less than $15 an hour in 2021. More than 50 percent of black workers and 60 percent of Hispanic workers earn under $15 an hour. For those working forty-hour workweeks, that’s $600 a week, $2,600 a month, and $31,200 a year. A third of US workers — 31.3 percent — don’t even make that much; they earn less than $12 an hour.

The problem is not that workers’ labor is worth less than it used to be. In April 2022, the Center for Economic and Policy Research concluded that the minimum wage would have been $23 in 2021 if it kept up with inflation and worker productivity. Instead, the additional profits generated by working people have gone into the bank accounts of the wealthy few.

The percentage of overall wealth possessed by the bottom 50 percent in the United States remains about the same as in the late 1960s during King’s last years. In 2021, the bottom 50 percent owned just 1.5 percent of all wealth. Whereas the top 1 percent of adults had about 25 percent of the wealth in the late 1960s, they now possess 34.9 percent. And the richest 10 percent of the population owns 70.7 percent of all wealth.

Contrary to dominant ideology, hard work does not correlate to increased income under capitalism. Instead, money is made through ownership and investment. Not only do the wealthy own most of the property, but they also own most of the stocks. In 2021, the wealthiest 10 percent of US households owned 89 percent of all US stocks. The bottom 90 percent of Americans held about 11 percent of all stocks.

In his defiant “Three Evils of Society” speech, King cleverly observed that US political policies favor “socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor.” Part of our problem is that we

have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifice. The fact is that capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor — both black and white, both here and abroad.

Contrary to the culturally exalted model of combating poverty through nonprofit, nongovernmental philanthropy, King believed that poverty could only be remedied through political-structural transformation. “The way to end poverty,” he said, “is to end the exploitation of the poor.” To this he added we could end poverty by also ensuring poor people have “a fair share of the government services and the nation’s resources.”

Attempting to solve the problem of poverty by exclusively teaching poor people how to “improve themselves” and better manage their financial resources is a bit like teaching black boys and men to navigate white supremacy by not wearing hoodies, or like trying to help women combat sexist harassment by encouraging them to dress more modestly. These kinds of suggestions fail to address the root of the problem and simply blame the victim. Ultimately, King believed, we will have to transform the economic structure itself.

Where Do We Go From Here?

On June 18, 2022, the nonpartisan Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival will hold a poor people’s and low-wage workers’ assembly and march on Washington, DC. Led by Reverend William Barber and Reverend Dr Liz Theoharis, the nonpartisan grassroots group’s aim is to advance the campaign launched by King and his allies in 1967, and to finally fulfill its aims. They seek increased minimum state and federal wages, an end to anti-union laws, fully funded welfare programs, and free tuition at public colleges and universities.

The new Poor People’s Campaign demands immediate federal and state action to address the needs of millions of poor and low-income Americans. The group contends that the official poverty measure, which would not label a family of four earning $26,000 as poor, conceals the extent of the problem. By the official measure, about 12 percent of the US population is poor and another 18 percent near-poor. But other calculations of poverty that account for costs of essentials such as food, clothing, housing, and utilities, conclude that closer to 43 percent of the US population is poor or low-income.

Our task, King makes clear, is to unite in common struggle against an economic system that deprives us of our life, liberty, and rightful pursuit of happiness. As King said,

The dispossessed of this nation — the poor, both white and Negro — live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize a revolution against that injustice, not against the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against the structures through which the society is refusing to take means which have been called for, and which are at hand, to lift the load of poverty.


Jeffrey Nall teaches courses in philosophy and humanities at the University of Central Florida. He writes the newsletter “Humanities in Revolt.”

Jacobin, May 31, 2022, https://jacobin.com/

In Memphis, Poor People’s Campaign demands ‘resurrection’ of MLK’s vision / by Mark Gruenberg

Poor People’s Campaign on the march in Memphis. | @unitethepoor via Twitter

MEMPHIS, Tenn.—Wending its way towards its March on Washington on June 18, the new Poor People’s Campaign stopped May 22 in Memphis to demand “resurrection” of causes the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., fought for—including workers’ rights.

Speaking literally in front of the site where King was assassinated in April 1968—the Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum—campaign co-chair the Rev. Dr. William Barber II said King’s causes of equality on the job, civil rights, voting rights, and the right to organize are endangered once again.

“We don’t need nostalgia” for Dr. King, “we need a resurrection” of his causes, Barber said. That’s the point of June 18.

One big cause is the right to organize.

Fifty-four years ago, King was aiding the “I Am A Man” sanitation workers who were trying to unionize with AFSCME Local 1733. Now, Kylie Throckmorton, one of seven Memphis Starbucks workers trying to organize a union there, told the crowd of that struggle. The seven are part of a national Starbucks organizing drive aided by Workers United, a Service Employees sector.

“Because I was trying to build a union, my co-workers and I were fired,” said Throckmorton, the second of a group of poor and low-wealth people to speak.

“They would rather have us living on the streets” than recognize the union and pay decent wages, Throckmorton said of Starbucks’s bosses. “You deserve to be safe on the job. You deserve to live comfortably. You deserve to have health care.”

All of that is lacking at Starbucks, workers from coast to coast tell organizers.

The National Labor Relations Board went to federal court in Memphis on May 10 seeking an injunction ordering Starbucks to immediately stop its labor law-breaking and take the seven back.

Barber took up her theme during his remarks, linking it to employer exploitation of “essential” workers during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. “How many of you know some of them?” he asked the crowd of more than 1,000 people gathered in front of the podium in the hotel-turned-museum’s parking lot. People raised their hands.

“How many of you are some of them?” just like the sanitation workers whose cause Dr. King espoused 54 years ago, he asked. More hands went up.

“During COVID, poor people are dying at a rate of two to five times that of others,” he explained. “We need to show America people still have to wait” for social, civil and economic justice “because we haven’t yet done” as a country “what we should do.”

Dr. King, Barber noted, was getting more outspoken about those causes, though he—like the Poor People’s Campaign now—emphasizes non-violence, including non-violent civil disobedience, to raise the profile of its goals and to push leaders to act.

Quoting from the speech Dr. King planned to give but never did, Barber said the U.S. “was on a path to go to hell” until it addresses the underlying problems of systemic racism, poverty, overspending on the U.S. military, poor education, shortage of decent affordable housing and lack of health care for all.

King spoke out for those same causes. For those views, especially his opposition to the Indochina War, Barber noted, King faced ostracism from leaders of his own denomination and even disagreements with colleagues at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Like other Poor People’s Campaign events, most Memphis speakers were poor and low-wealth people, exploited and/or unemployed, and a mix of races. That reflects the bottom-up mass movement of the PPC and its success at getting people to recognize their causes and complaints against an exploitative system are intertwined.

Memphis resident Scottie Fitzgerald described a long-running local campaign against a pipeline whose construction would rip through a working-class, mostly Black neighborhood, all to enrich a private corporation.

“A business group connived with the government to take your land” through eminent domain “for a pipeline that could poison your water?” Barber asked Fitzgerald. “That’s right,” she replied of yet another example of corporate environmental racism.

Shirley Smith, a lifelong resident of Mason, Tenn., a majority-Black town whose prior white leaders took it into bankruptcy, told how the lack of jobs there forced her to take weekend work industrial cleaning in a Nabisco factory—in Chicago, a two-and-a-half-hour one-way drive away.

Then Ford came to Mason to build a plant in Tennessee, which happens to be a Republican-run, and gerrymandered, right-to-work state whose voters will be asked in November to enshrine that anti-union tenet in its constitution. “They (Ford) want to buy up all our land” for their 4,100-acre facility “and people didn’t really have a choice.”

Of the economic elite, Smith added: “They want to take you out of prosperity.”

“In this city, if you are not fighting for change still, you are distorting the legacy” of Dr. King and the civil rights movement, Barber said—a statement that could apply not just to Memphis, but nationwide.

Join the CPUSA’s “500-Strong” Delegation in D.C. on June 18th. Sign up here.


Mark Gruenberg, an award winning journalist, is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

People’s World, May 24, 2022, https://peoplesworld.org/