On Why Capitalists Are Guilty of Social Murder / by Friedrich Engels

Friedrich Engels directing the construction of a barricade in the streets of Elberfeld during the riots of May 1849 in Prussia. (Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Originally published in Jacobin on November 28, 2022

In 1845, Friedrich Engels wrote a scathing condemnation of English capitalism, The Condition of the Working Class in England. In it, he accused the bosses of carrying out “social murder” against workers and the poor.

The following is an edited extract from Friedrich Engels’s The Condition of the Working Class in Englandfirst published in 1845. You can read the full text here.

Atown, such as London, where a man may wander for hours together without reaching the beginning of the end, without meeting the slightest hint which could lead to the inference that there is open country within reach, is a strange thing. This colossal centralization, this heaping together of two and a half millions of human beings at one point, has multiplied the power of this two and a half millions a hundredfold; has raised London to the commercial capital of the world, created the giant docks and assembled the thousand vessels that continually cover the Thames.

I know nothing more imposing than the view which the Thames offers during the ascent from the sea to London Bridge. The masses of buildings, the wharves on both sides, especially from Woolwich upwards, the countless ships along both shores, crowding ever closer and closer together, until, at last, only a narrow passage remains in the middle of the river, a passage through which hundreds of steamers shoot by one another; all this is so vast, so impressive, that a man cannot collect himself, but is lost in the marvel of England’s greatness before he sets foot upon English soil.

Friedrich Engels

But the sacrifices which all this has cost become apparent later. After roaming the streets of the capital a day or two, making headway with difficulty through the human turmoil and the endless lines of vehicles, after visiting the slums of the metropolis, one realizes for the first time that these Londoners have been forced to sacrifice the best qualities of their human nature, to bring to pass all the marvels of civilization which crowd their city; that a hundred powers which slumbered within them have remained inactive, have been suppressed in order that a few might be developed more fully and multiply through union with those of others. The very turmoil of the streets has something repulsive, something against which human nature rebels. The hundreds of thousands of all classes and ranks crowding past each other, are they not all human beings with the same qualities and powers, and with the same interest in being happy? And have they not, in the end, to seek happiness in the same way, by the same means?

And still they crowd by one another as though they had nothing in common, nothing to do with one another, and their only agreement is the tacit one, that each keep to his own side of the pavement, so as not to delay the opposing streams of the crowd, while it occurs to no man to honor another with so much as a glance. The brutal indifference, the unfeeling isolation of each in his private interest, becomes the more repellent and offensive, the more these individuals are crowded together, within a limited space.

And, however much one may be aware that this isolation of the individual, this narrow selfseeking, is the fundamental principle of our society everywhere, it is nowhere so shamelessly barefaced, so self-conscious as just here in the crowding of the great city. The dissolution of mankind into monads, of which each one has a separate principle, the world of atoms, is here carried out to its utmost extreme.

Hence it comes, too, that the social war, the war of each against all, is here openly declared. Just as in Stirner’s recent book [The Ego and Its Own], people regard each other only as useful objects; each exploits the other, and the end of it all is that the stronger treads the weaker under foot; and that the powerful few, the capitalists, seize everything for themselves, while to the weak many, the poor, scarcely a bare existence remains.

What is true of London, is true of Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, is true of all great towns. Everywhere barbarous indifference, hard egotism on one hand, and nameless misery on the other, everywhere social warfare, every man’s house in a state of siege, everywhere reciprocal plundering under the protection of the law, and all so shameless, so openly avowed that one shrinks before the consequences of our social state as they manifest themselves here undisguised, and can only wonder that the whole crazy fabric still hangs together.

Since capital, the direct or indirect control of the means of subsistence and production, is the weapon with which this social warfare is carried on, it is clear that all the disadvantages of such a state must fall upon the poor. For him no man has the slightest concern. Cast into the whirlpool, he must struggle through as well as he can. If he is so happy as to find work, i.e., if the bourgeoisie does him the favor to enrich itself by means of him, wages await him which scarcely suffice to keep body and soul together; if he can get no work he may steal, if he is not afraid of the police, or starve, in which case the police will take care that he does so in a quiet and inoffensive manner.

During my residence in England, at least twenty or thirty persons have died of simple starvation under the most revolting circumstances, and a jury has rarely been found possessed of the courage to speak the plain truth in the matter. Let the testimony of the witnesses be never so clear and unequivocal, the bourgeoisie, from which the jury is selected, always finds some backdoor through which to escape the frightful verdict, death from starvation. The bourgeoisie dare not speak the truth in these cases, for it would speak its own condemnation. But indirectly, far more than directly, many have died of starvation, where long-continued want of proper nourishment has called forth fatal illness, when it has produced such debility that causes which might otherwise have remained inoperative brought on severe illness and death. The English workingmen call this “social murder,” and accuse our whole society of perpetrating this crime perpetually. Are they wrong?

True, it is only individuals who starve, but what security has the workingman that it may not be his turn tomorrow? Who assures him employment, who vouches for it that, if for any reason or no reason his lord and master discharges him tomorrow, he can struggle along with those dependent upon him, until he may find someone else “to give him bread”? Who guarantees that willingness to work shall suffice to obtain work, that uprightness, industry, thrift, and the rest of the virtues recommended by the bourgeoisie, are really his road to happiness?

No one. He knows that he has something today and that it does not depend upon himself whether he shall have something tomorrow. He knows that every breeze that blows, every whim of his employer, every bad turn of trade may hurl him back into the fierce whirlpool from which he has temporarily saved himself, and in which it is hard and often impossible to keep his head above water. He knows that, though he may have the means of living today, it is very uncertain whether he shall tomorrow . . .

Friedrich Engels was a German socialist instrumental to the development of Marxism

Poverty Is Capitalism’s Great Crime / by Eugene Debs

Labor organizers address striking coal miners in Ludlow, Colorado, during the 1913–14 Colorado Coalfield War. (Wikimedia Commons)

Originally published in Jacobin, https://jacobin.com/

Eugene Debs was famous for excoriating the barbarities of capitalism, including the right-wing notion of the “unworthy poor.” As Debs writes in the following 1915 article, republished here for the first time, every human deserves to be free from poverty.

he warnings which have recently issued from both the pulpit and the press in [Terre Haute] against the “unworthy poor” prompt me to ask these Christian gentleman if the great Teacher they profess to follow ever made any discrimination between the “worthy” poor and the “unworthy” poor. The poor were the poor to him, because he was of their number. Born in direst poverty, he knew their suffering and heartache, and when he ministered to their wants it did not occur to him to smell their breath to see if they, or possibly their grandsires, had not in some evil hour taken a drink of liquor as an excuse for branding them as “unworthy poor,” and turning them away to starve. Indeed, so completely and consistently did he love the poor, from whom he sprang and among whom he spent all the days of his sad and tragic life, that when he made any distinctions among them it was wholly in favor of the “unworthy” poor, by forgiving them much because they had suffered much. He did not condemn them to starvation and suicide upon the hypocritical pretext that they were “unworthy,” but they did apply the lash of scorpions without mercy to those self-righteous and “eminently respectable” gentlemen who robbed the poor and then despised them for their poverty; who made long prayers, where they could be seen of men, while they devoured widows’ houses and bound burdens upon the backs of their victims that crushed them to the earth.

Who and where are the “unworthy” poor and who dare in the name of Christ to judge them? I have seen the innumerable poor in all their agonizing poverty and hopeless despair, but I have yet to see an “unworthy” poor. They are all God’s creatures and they are all human beings, and how any one professing to be a Christian can warn the community not to give them a mouthful of food, but to turn them away to starve and die can only be reconciled with that whited sepulcher, which so often passes for “Christian charity.” A human being with a heart in him, unless it be of stone, would feed a hungry dog, to say nothing of a famishing fellow-being.

Do not tell me as an excuse that all these men could have work if they but wanted it. That is not true. On the contrary, it is palpably false. In the city of New York alone, according to the abstract recently issued by the national bureau of labor, there are nearly four hundred thousand of workingmen and women in enforced idleness and in the country at large there are literally millions for whom there is no employment. Here is where to place the blame instead of upon the helpless victims, the “unworthy” poor; and here, too, is where to apply the remedy.

But I do not blame even those who become hoboes and tramps, rather than spend their lives in slavish tasks for the benefit of others who look down upon them with scorn as beasts of burden. I would rather be branded as belonging to the “unworthy” poor than to be insulted by being classed with the “worthy” poor.

The “worthy” poor! Think of that! It is society’s inadvertent confession of its own crime. It is precisely as if we said “innocent convicts,” and yet made no pretension to setting the innocent victims free.

Bernard Shaw is right. Poverty is civilization’s greatest crime. And this crime cannot be atoned for by “charity.” Rockefeller’s Sunday school will count for no more than a brothel when the babies murdered at Ludlow confront him in the day of judgment.

Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple (1568) by El Greco. (National Gallery of Art)

Rockefeller’s income is a hundred million dollars a year. It is pure robbery. Not a dollar of it does he produce. It is all taken from those in whose sweat and agony it is produced, and that is the reason they are poor and tired and discouraged and get drunk and recruit the ranks of the “unworthy” poor. If I had to exist as many of those poor wretches do — and we have them at our very doors — I, too, would probably get drunk as often as I had the chance.

There is a cause for poverty, and that cause can be removed, and when it is removed there will be few, if any poor, “worthy” or “unworthy.” The very fact that a poor wretch is “unworthy” pleads most accusingly and irresistibly in his behalf. The cause of his “unworthiness” may be found in his heredity or environment, and in any event outside of and beyond himself, and he should no more be punished for it than if he were the victim of cancer or epilepsy.

A vast amount of fraud, hypocrisy, and false pretense parades as “charity” for the purpose of diverting attention from the cause of the poverty it affects to relieve.

It is not “charity” that the poor want, or that will change their unfortunate condition. It is justice, and to obtain that the whole modern world is in a state of increasingly intelligent and portentous agitation.

As long as the few own the sources of wealth, the machinery of production and the means of life, the many will be condemned to work for them as the miners of Colorado and Montana work for Rockefeller, with the result that the few pile up millions and billions and rot in luxury and self-indulgence, while the millions that are robbed riot and rot in poverty and filth. The exploitation of the many by the few is now on trial before the world, and when that trial is ended and the exploitation of man by man ceases and society is organized upon the basis of the enlightened mutual interests of all, democracy will dawn, men will be brothers, war will cease, poverty will be a hideous nightmare of the past, and the sun of a new civilization will light the world.

Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926) was a union leader and socialist.

Opinion: To end gun violence we also need to end poverty / by Stephen Carnahan

Photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images

When I’m not feeling angry, I’m sad. When I’m not feeling sad, I’m angry. 

The sadness is because of the loss of young, innocent lives. It’s so hard to watch the news and see the faces of the children in Uvalde, Texas or parade goers in Chicago. It makes me so sad to know that there are people from California to New Hampshire who have been shot because…well who knows why? It makes me sad to know that people have been shot in large numbers because they were Black or gay or Jewish or just enjoying a music festival. Maybe even just driving down the road. I see our society closing its eyes to all this because its just too much to take. 

And I’m angry. I’m angry at a nation that has decided to let this happen. We alone of the developed nations of the world kill ourselves like this. We have decided we are okay with it.

We let people become desperate. We allow many of our people to live in poverty. Poverty creates desperation and desperate people can become violent. We allow our people to survive with inadequate housing, or none at all. We allow people to build mansions, and let other people sleep in doorways. We let one in every eight people try to get by without enough food. Often we restrict people’s freedom and let inequality reign, despite what we say in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Poverty, lack of housing, prejudice, hunger—all these things create desperation. Desperation creates crime and violence. 

We have then decided, as a nation, to make sure those desperate people have access to plenty of powerful weapons. A troubled young man can walk into a store on the day after he turns 18. He can buy two powerful rifles and plenty of ammunition. He can use them to take 21 lives, 19 of them beautiful little children. So, yes, I’m angry! And so very sad.

I am sad because it doesn’t have to be this way. I have been working with the Maine People’s Alliance for about two years and have learned that there are many solutions to the problems of the people, but that we have to twist arms and march and protest to get our leaders to take the actions we need. 

Not all of them, of course. There are many good legislators who are doing their best to improve the lives of Mainers. I do not want this letter to be seen as implying that the problem is poor people. It’s poverty itself that troubles us.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to be always dealing with sadness and anger. We can deal with poverty. We can make sure people in Maine have enough food and adequate health care. And we certainly can, we certainly must, change our laws to make it harder for desperate people to get their hands on powerful weapons. 

Stephen Carnahan is a retired pastor who has been living in Maine for 24 years and has worked in congregations of the United Church of Christ for 35 years. Prior to that, Stephen worked as a high school teacher on Long Island, NY. He currently lives in Auburn on Taylor Pond and has two grown children, one of whom lives in Maine and the other travels all over. Stephen volunteers with the Maine People’s Alliance and can also be frequently found at Sea Dogs games in Portland.

Maine Beacon, July 5, 2022, https://mainebeacon.com/

Opinion: 140 Million Poor People Are Not A Disease. They Are The Result Of Policy Murder / by Bishop William J. Barber II

Man sleeps on Third Street sidewalk in downtown L.A., 9/19/ 06 | Illus: HuffPost; photo: Brian Vanderburg, L.A. Times via Getty

Originally published in the Huffington Post, June 27, 2022, https://www.huffpost.com/

The American Rescue Plan lifted 4 million children out of poverty. This legislation didn’t simply make life a little easier for some Americans. It saved lives.

Standing before tens of thousands gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., on June 18, I was led to say these words: “We come here from every corner of this land because there are unnecessarily 140 million poor and low-wealth people in this country.

“These numbers and the interlocking injustices that produce them are not just about debates between the right, left and moderates. They represent a crisis of democracy and a shared failure to center poor and low-wealth people. But there is something else that is even more grotesque: the regressive policies which produce 140 million poor and low wealth people are not benign. They are forms of policy murder.”

As a pastor, some of the hardest sermons I’ve had to preach were at funerals for people who were murdered. I’ve funeralized people murdered by police, and I have eulogized young men who were shot dead in the street over little more than $20. But whenever you stand over the body of someone who has been murdered, you know they died an unnatural death. God did not simply “call them home.” Their life was cut short by someone who decided that they could play God and determine when a life should end. Murder is a sin not only because it takes another human’s life; it is also an act of idolatry.

People attend a rally calling for attention to the living conditions of the low-income people and urging policymakers to do more to support those on the bottom, in Washington, D.C., on June 18 | LIU JIE/XINHUA NEWS AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES

While murder has a legal definition and can be prosecuted under state and federal laws, murderers are not the only people who commit the idolatrous act of deciding that someone else’s life doesn’t matter. In fact, far more people are killed every year by policy violence than by murderers in America. According to a study from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, nearly 700 people die every day in America from poverty. That’s more than those who die from cancer or heart disease. But unlike these diseases, poverty is largely a political choice. We know that policies like the expanded child tax credit, which was passed as part of the American Rescue Plan, lifted 4 million U.S. children out of poverty in 2021 before it was discontinued in 2022 after the Senate failed to extend it. This legislation didn’t simply make life a little easier for some Americans. It saved lives.

When politicians use the power they have by virtue of being elected to kill legislation that saves lives, what should we call it? Policy violence may not meet the legal definition of murder, but that is more of a statement about the insufficiency of our laws than it is about the seriousness of the legislative negligence. If an individual doctor failed to do something in her power to save the life of a child, she would be charged with malpractice. If an engineer failed to take the necessary measures to ensure that a bridge doesn’t collapse under the weight of traffic, he would be charged with criminal negligence. But when politicians refuse to renew life-saving policies, they are called “moderates.” Something is wrong with our language.

This inability to even name the violence that is causing the most unnecessary death in our society suggests that we are held captive by something we do not understand. In ancient scripture, the prophets spoke out in the public square against such social captivity. They held up a mirror, demanding that the nation must see itself, and offered vivid images to describe the policy violence that was consuming people’s lives.

Then-presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at the Poor People’s Moral Action Congress presidential forum in Washington, D.C., on June 17, 2019. Political activist Bishop William Barber sits at left | SUSAN WALSH VIA AP

“Your politicians are like ravenous wolves,” Ezekiel prophesied in ancient Israel, comparing the policy violence of those who denied poor people their rights to flesh-eating wild animals. Ezekiel gave the people language to name an offense that the criminal code did not recognize. And he did not allow the people to think that politicians alone were responsible for the policy violence that plagued their society. “Your priests are like [the politicians],” he declared, “whitewashing their sins.” Policy violence never happens without the cultural wrapping of religious nationalism to justify legally sanctioned inhumanity. The worst evils in human history have been committed with the blessing of the court prophets, under the fiery cross of the Ku Klux Klan rally, and wrapped in the flag of the religious nationalists who believe they are justified in their cruelty because they are somehow defending God’s good order.

America, too, has had her prophets. After she walked away from the brutality of human bondage, Sojourner Truth heard the spirit’s call to travel across the United States and expose the nation’s sin. Like Ezekiel, she relied on vivid imagery to awaken people from a collective stupor in which owning other human beings was not only seen as acceptable, but was also represented as God’s will. The role of the prophet has always been to expose policy violence, and history has often conspired with the prophets to make it easier for everyone to see and feel how decisions made by the powerful impact all of us.

Over the past two years, poor and low-income people have been two to five times more likely to die from COVID. Together with the United Nations Sustainable Development Network, the Poor People’s Campaign conducted a study earlier this year which found that these extreme disparities cannot simply be explained by vaccination status. They are related to the policy violence against poor and low-wealth people that is endemic in American public life.

Recently, the National Academy of Sciences said that more than 330,000 lives could’ve been saved if we simply had a policy of universal health care for all people when the pandemic hit. This basic commitment, which was first proposed in the United States by a Republican more than a century ago, is not out of reach. Every other wealthy country in the world guarantees health care to its citizens, whether a conservative or liberal government is in power. That we do not is an exception which exposes America’s policy violence. Whatever their stated reasons for doing so, our elected representatives chose to let hundreds of thousands of Americans die. Yet we do not have a name for this particular form of mass slaughter.

Los Angeles, CA – March 10:Los Angeles county sheriff deputies stand by as crews begin removing a homeless encampment in front of the Veterans Administration in Westwood, California, on Nov. 1, 2021. About 50 homeless vets who had been living on the sidewalk in front of the facility were being relocated | MEDIANEWS GROUP VIA MEDIANEWS GROUP VIA GETTY IMAGES

“Words make worlds,” the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, and the absence of words can likewise prevent us from seeing the world that some people live in. On June 18, tens of thousands of Americans from every state in the union and from every race, creed, and culture marched together on Pennsylvania Avenue with the Poor People’s Campaign to demand that the nation see their reality. For more than five hours, they told stories of losing loved ones to a lack of health care and mass incarceration, losing housing because of low wages and gentrification, and losing communities to ecological devastation and displacement. Standing before Congress for all to see, they issued a collective indictment against America’s policy violence.

In doing so, poor and low-wealth people were able to see clearly that, however powerful those in office may seem, there are actually far more of us who suffer from policy violence than there are people who support it. Even as the Jan. 6 committee in Congress continued to lay out the desperation of Trump’s seven-step plan to overturn the 2020 election when he and others felt they were losing power, the Mass Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly issued its own seven-step plan to build legitimate power between now and the midterms in November.

When we find language to name policy violence and listen to the people who suffer from it, we not only see the world as it is, we can also see our capacity to change it. The greatest violence of all may be the lie that they tell us, in the face of monstrous evil, that we can do nothing — that this is just the way things are. When those who have suffered violence join hands and rise up together to insist that their voices be heard, it is a reminder that none of us have to accept policy violence as a given.

“We made the world we are living in,” James Baldwin said, “and we must make it over again.” The work of all who oppose policy violence is the work of reconstructing American democracy.

William J. Barber II is an American Protestant minister and social activist. He is the president and senior lecturer at Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. He also serves as a member of the national board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and is the chair of its legislative political action committee.

Huffington Post, June 27, 2022, https://www.huffpost.com/

Juneteenth 2022: Demanding a Third Radical Reconstruction of U.S. capitalism / by John Bachtell

The Revs. William Barber and Liz Theoharis at the head of a march led by the Poor People’s Campaign. | Poor People’s Campaign

Tens of thousands are descending on Washington, D.C. for the historic, multiracial “Moral March on Washington and to the Polls.” The march occurs during the Juneteenth Holiday weekend and the growing battle to preserve and extend U.S. constitutional democracy.

The march, called by the Poor People’s Campaign, aims to mobilize the nation’s 140 million Black, Brown, and white poor and low-wage workers, and to unite, organize, and activate this potentially powerful force in coalition with others to remake U.S. society, the economy, and democracy from top to bottom.

Such a force could be decisive for the upcoming midterm elections. At stake is the people’s ability to shape the nation’s future for the benefit of all, our Constitutional democracy, the lives and rights of our people, and the existence of planet Earth.

Juneteenth celebrates the Emancipation of enslaved African Americans in 1863. This tradition of observance and celebration dates back to 1866 and is deeply rooted in African American culture and history.

The adoption of Juneteenth as a federal holiday by a Democratic majority Congress and president reflected the victory of a broad pro-democratic, multiracial, anti-racist coalition of forces that ousted the most openly racist administration in 100 years. It demonstrates the strength and level of African American equality and anti-racist movements to advance a multiracial democracy and is a dramatic validation of the premise that elections have consequences.

But the Moral March and Juneteenth celebration also occur against the backdrop of the ongoing attempted coup by Trump, his billionaire allies, the insurrectionist Republican Party, and the far-right and fascist movements so vividly captured during the nationally televised hearing of the January 6 Select Committee.

These forces are determined to achieve in 2022 and 2024 what they failed to accomplish in 2020. Their ascension to power would open the door to the complete rollback and likely violent repression of all democratic rights. They aim to restore unchallenged white supremacist minority rule, eliminate the peaceful transfer of power, and impose permanent governance by the fascist Republican Party.

The fight to mobilize the majority of Americans to isolate and defeat these forces to preserve and expand democracy is growing.

The Rev. William Barber III and Rev. Liz Theoharris, co-leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign and the June 18 march, are among those who view the current drive to defend and expand democratic rights as part of what is referred to as a Third Reconstruction in the U.S. They view it as a radical remaking of U.S. society, politics, and economy to benefit all.

Emancipation and the First Reconstruction

The First Radical Reconstruction era followed Emancipation, the second great American Revolution, and lasted from 1867 to 1876. Together, these two events marked the most significant advance for democracy in U.S. history. It was a recognition that the U.S. could never be fully democratic if African Americans were not entirely equal in every respect.

A multiracial coalition exercising federal political power, with the newly emancipated playing a leading role, drove the revolutionary social and economic reforms that ensued. The goal was to radically remake or reconstruct the nation from the grassroots to reflect its founding ideals, proclaimed on paper but not yet in practice.

During Reconstruction, Black political representation radically expanded. Over 600 African Americans were elected to state legislatures and Congress. New state constitutions were adopted in the former Confederate states proclaiming equality. The new state governments extended public education and distributed land and other economic resources to the emancipated. It was also an era of a general expansion of worker’s rights, and these advances favorably impacted the lives of white workers and their families, too.

With the passage of the 15th Amendment, droves of Black men went to the polls to exercise their newly recognized right to vote. In this ‘Harper’s Weekly’ print, Black men of various occupations wait patiently for their turn as the first voter submits his ballot. | Alfred R. Waud, “The First Vote,” November 1867 / Library of Congress

Reconstruction Amendments to the U.S. Constitution accompanied legislative advances and were a codification of the expansion of democratic rights. The revolutionary 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments abolished slavery and involuntary servitude (except in cases of incarceration), guaranteed citizenship, equal protection under the law, and voting rights (but only to men).

No sooner were these laws passed than the ruling forces comprising the old slavocracy began to mobilize to regain their power and reverse the revolutionary democratic gains. After only a decade, the old slavocracy defeated Reconstruction and the multiracial fusion coalition that won it.

From its beginnings, U.S. capitalism thrived on the exploitation of humanity, most brutally represented by the system of slavery. Despite the gains of Reconstruction, the systemic racism that was rooted in the capitalist system reasserted its power.

Employing open racial terror and racial division and allying with ruling elites nationally, the old slavocracy overthrew the Reconstruction governments. African Americans were disenfranchised and removed from political office, their newly accumulated wealth stolen or destroyed. The new state governments adopted Black codes to suppress African American rights and impose segregation and a brutal racial hierarchy.

The open racial terror and violent repression of African American rights, including lynch terror and imposition of Jim Crow segregation, lasted some 70 years and drove over six million African Americans to escape the sweltering oppression of the South during the Great Migration. Capitalism’s systemic racism ensured the existence and continuation of systemic poverty throughout the country in the decades that followed and right up through the present day.

Civil Rights Revolution and the Second Reconstruction

The mass Civil Rights movement crushed this fascist terror and broke the back of Jim Crow segregation. The Civil Rights Revolution, which many call the Second Reconstruction, resulted in landmark legal and legislative victories from Brown v. Board to civil, voting, and housing rights.

But the movement, rooted in the African American freedom struggle, came to reflect a broad multiracial movement for democracy. It helped spur historic democratic uprisings for the rights of Mexican Americans, Native Americans, women, LGBTQ people, immigrants, and disabled persons and for peace and the environment.

But the forces of white supremacy, the corporate ruling class, and reactionary elements never accepted this remaking of America and expansion of democratic rights, as incomplete as it was. Like the First Reconstruction, the Second Reconstruction also sparked a racist ruling class backlash. The result was a suppression of the movement, particularly the African American freedom movement, including the assassination of its leaders.

Central to this reactionary backlash was the rise of the new American extreme-right coalition backed by the most reactionary sectors of corporate America, which aims to dismantle the newly gained rights for equality. But its more significant aim is to impose white minority corporate rule and undo all social gains. These include worker and social rights won during the New Deal era, including union rights, Social Security, and other social progress. Just like the old slavocracy, they aim to destroy U.S. Constitutional democracy.

It took a Second Reconstruction, led by the Civil Rights Movement, to break the back of Jim Crow segregation and realize voting rights and greater democracy. But those gains have been under intense threat for more than 40 years. | Library of Congress

March for the Third Reconstruction

Our country’s multiracial working class and people have been in an epic battle with these reactionary forces since the 1980s. While the far-right and fascist movements and institutions, including right-wing mass media, have grown, so too have the mass movements for political and economic democracy.

Among the many gains recorded was the election of the nation’s first African American president, Barack Obama, whose campaign was based on fusion multiracial coalition politics. “Obama’s election represents the possibility of a Third Reconstruction,” Rev. Barber has said.

The new multiracial electorate that elected Obama, growing demographic changes, advances for racial, women’s, LGBTQ, and disability equality, and its growing unity and power scares corporate ruling forces and those influenced by white male supremacy and fear of societal change.

The backlash to these recent gains has been fierce and relentless, beginning with Republican passage of voter suppression legislation across the South but now extending to the denial of abortion rights, attacks on union rights, and creating a public health crisis from the flood of guns in our streets.

Efforts to break up the multiracial electorate and roll back the rights of African Americans, Latinos, and other people of color and slow down and reverse the demographic shifts immediately followed Obama’s election victory. The far-right also mobilized against the rights labor, women, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community.

The backlash gave rise to the MAGA fascist movement and ultimately the election of Trump, the imposition of an extreme-right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, and the passage of further voter suppression and election subversion laws to permanently institutionalize Republican rule.

But the mobilization of the forces to defeat Trump and defend U.S. Constitutional democracy has expanded the possibilities to expand democratic rights for a Third Radical Reconstruction. If mobilized, a democratic majority of Americans can exercise political power to address poverty and income disparity from the bottom up, address racial and gender inequality, avert the ecological and climate crises, and demilitarize the economy and society. “A Third Reconstruction to revive our moral and political commitment to democracy” is what must happen, says Rep. Barbara Lee.

U.S. capitalism, particularly its most reactionary sectors, is responsible for the massive economic, racial, and gender disparities that plague U.S. society and for the gun violence, militarization, and environmental threats that threaten life on this planet. As Rev. Barber noted, “Forty-three percent of people—over 140 million—live in poverty or are low income. 52% of our children live in poverty. And the Federal budget is just as immoral—$700 billion for defense and $700 billion for everything else. During COVID, billionaires made $2 trillion more and eight million more people fell into poverty. That’s ridiculous!”

The fight to end poverty, save the environment, demilitarize the economy, and defend and radically reform U.S. Constitutional democracy are all intertwined. A Third Reconstruction fulfills the hope of Juneteenth, the spirit of “Sí, se puede,” and the vision of “This land is your land, This land is our land.”

So wherever you are this Juneteenth weekend—whether it’s Washington, D.C., with the thousands of people mobilized by the Poor People’s Campaign, or in your own hometown—march for equality, justice, and democracy. And on Election Day, march again to the polls to cast your vote. March for the Third Reconstruction that our nation needs.

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People’s World. He served as national chair of the Communist Party USA from 2014 to 2019. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, Pittsburgh, and Albuquerque and attended Antioch College. He currently lives in Chicago where he is an avid swimmer, cyclist, runner, and dabbler in guitar and occasional singer in a community chorus.

People’s World, June 18, 2022, https://www.peoplesworld.org/

Today’s Poor People’s Campaign carries on MLK’s fight for economic justice / by Cameron Orr

Participants in the southern leg of the original Poor People’s Campaign march through Atlanta, May 10, 1968. The group was on its way to Washington, D.C. On June 18th this year, today’s Poor People’s Campaign will again bring a message of economic justice, voting rights, and anti-racism to the nation’s capital. | AP

Co-chaired by Rev. William J. Barber II and Liz Theoharis, the Poor People’s Campaign began in May 2018 with 40 days of coordinated action at statehouses across the U.S. to confront systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism, and the war economy.

Now mobilizing for a massive June 18th “Mass Poor People’s and Low Wage Workers’ Assembly,” today’s Poor People’s Campaign is reviving the work of the original Poor People’s Campaign led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968.

Billed as a “moral march on Washington and to the polls” for the November elections, the event next weekend will target lawmakers and push them to address what the Poor People’s Campaign calls the “moral, economic, and political crisis” facing the nation.

From the west coast to the east and at all points in between, people are signing up for spots on buses and joining in the organizing. And they’re bringing co-workers, family, friends, and neighbors with them to the nation’s capital. The massive march will occur, appropriately, on Juneteenth weekend, which celebrates the democratic revolution that ended slavery and established Black Reconstruction in the South.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., displays the poster that was to be used during the Poor People’s Campaign, March 4, 1968. | Horace Cort / AP

The original Poor People’s Campaign was the last big effort led by King before his assassination, the capstone to all his work on behalf of the racially and economically oppressed. King was instrumental in bringing together the labor and civil rights coalition that defeated key planks of the Jim Crow counterrevolution after Reconstruction. Then, as now, the forces of democracy and the extreme right were in sharp confrontation.

When King declared, “I have a dream!” to more than a quarter-million people in D.C. in August 1963, KKK and police terror in Alabama was still a fresh wound. As many as 1,000 children in Birmingham had walked out of school the previous May to protest segregation, only to be greeted with fire hoses, police dogs, batons, and arrests. But that action forced the Birmingham Truce Agreement, a set of anti-segregationist measures, followed by white supremacist bombings, civil unrest, and heavy repression.

“We have…come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now,” King declared then. “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”

The current Poor People’s Campaign says it’s that time again. Today’s demands have echoes of the past.

By the time of King’s 1963 speech, President John F. Kennedy had already been pushed to propose the Civil Rights Act. But it was blocked by a filibuster in the Senate. By November—three months after the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), NAACP, United Auto Workers (UAW), Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and other civil rights and labor organizations had gathered along the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pools—Kennedy had been assassinated.

Nonetheless, one year later, the movement behind King won the Civil Rights Act and anti-poverty “Great Society” legislation. In August 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. But ten days before pen was put to paper launching the War on Poverty, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, escalating the U.S.’ war on Vietnam. That’s when King increasingly began to highlight the connection between racism, poverty, and militarism.

“It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both Black and white, through the poverty program,” he said in 1967. “Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated.”

In November 1967, King announced the Poor People’s Campaign, with a plan to descend on Washington the following May. The campaign demanded $30 billion for a program of full employment, guaranteed income, and more low-income housing.

Four weeks before the scheduled mobilization, King was assassinated in Memphis. He was there for a march with mainly Black sanitation workers, striking against unequal wages and working conditions after a horrific incident in which two sanitation workers were crushed to death.

The movement mourned, but it pushed forward. The Poor People’s Campaign carried on under the leadership of King’s successor at the SCLC, Rev. Ralph Abernathy.

The leaders of today’s Poor People’s Campaign: Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis and Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II. | Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call via AP

Corretta Scott King led a Mother’s Day protest in D.C., beginning two weeks of demonstrations for an Economic Bill of Rights. A six-week tent encampment named “Resurrection City” was built on the national mall. The UAW brought 80 busloads out for the 50,000-strong protests on “Solidarity Day,” held on June 19th—Juneteenth.

On June 4th, as thousands occupied the national mall, Robert Kennedy, the candidate most aligned with the civil rights movement, won the California Democratic Party primary. Later that night, he was shot and killed. Twenty days later, over one thousand police came to the national mall to evict Resurrection City, arresting hundreds of people. Six months later, the ultra-right forces behind Nixon, who railed in his campaign against “rioters” and promised more policing and to protect segregated schooling, would come to power following the November elections.

Four decades later, organized labor and civil rights organizations across the country united to elect the nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama. What followed was both the racist Tea Party reaction that gridlocked Congress in 2010 and brought Trump to power six years later.

But a broad labor and left-wing struggle also arose to push a democratic agenda forward—from Occupy Wall Street in 2011 and the #Fightfor15 and a Union to Black Lives Matter, the 2017 Women’s March, and more recent fights to defend abortion rights. LGBTQ equality struggles have escalated, especially in defense of trans people, and a new rising militancy in the labor movement, increasingly led by young workers, is pushing forward union drives across the ountry. The small-d democratic and socialist-oriented electoral struggles that supported Bernie Sanders, AOC, and Stacey Abrams are a part of that mass democratic movement, too.

That’s the context for today’s Poor People’s Campaign.

Its leaders come by their activism naturally. Barber was born two days after the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. His parents moved to North Carolina when he was in kindergarten to participate with the school desegregation movement, and he’s been a fighter ever since. The church he pastors, Greenleaf Christian Church Disciples of Christ, is a “123-year-old congregation founded by former slaves.”

“If you follow the James River from this city down to the sea, you will find the place where my African American ancestors first set foot on these shores,” Barber told marchers in Richmond, Va., in 2016 for the Fight for $15 convention. They were in “the capital of the former Confederacy,” he reminded the crowd.

Behind him loomed a statue of Robert E. Lee statue, since removed and cut up in pieces after the enormous 2021 Black Lives Matter demonstrations. “My African American ancestors were brought here to work the land, to build this nation, but they were paid nothing for their labor.”

He spoke of the reversal of the democratic gains of Black Reconstruction after the Civil War: “When African Americans served in the Southern legislatures for the first time, they built a movement with poor whites. … They rewrote the constitutions of every southern state,” and “banned work without pay, demanded equal protection under the law … This wasn’t in the 1960s, this was in the 1860s!” Barber noted that they wrote into those constitutions the right “to the enjoyment of the fruit of your labor.”

“They knew that labor without living wages was nothing but a pseudo form of slavery.”

Theoharis began her activism in college fighting homelessness in Philadelphia after moving there from her hometown of Milwaukee. As a student she became involved in a group called Empty the Shelters, a local affiliate of the National Union of the Homeless. After leading the establishment of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice, together with Barber she became a co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign in 2017.

“We cannot return to normal,” Theoharis wrote in a statement to President Trump and Congress amid the early days of the COVID-19 emergency. “This is not the time for trickle-down solutions. We know that when you lift from the bottom, everybody rises. There are concrete solutions to this immediate crisis and the longer term illnesses we have been battling for months, years, and decades before,” she said.

“We will continue to organize and build power until you meet these demands. Many millions of us have been hurting for far too long. We will not be silent anymore.”

The massive mobilization in Washington, D.C., on June 18th will be proof of that refusal to remain silent.

Cameron Orr is a musician and writer living in Brooklyn, New York.

People’s World, June 13, 2022,

Buses filling up nationwide for June 18 Poor People’s Campaign D.C. march / by Cameron Orr

A bus filled with marchers by the original Poor People’s Campaign bus in 1968. Today’s modern Poor People’s Campaign is again bringing people from around the country to march on the nation’s capital on June 18. | Robert Houston / Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Across the country, spots on buses are filling up as thousands of people prepare to head to Washington, D.C., for the June 18th “Mass Poor People’s and Low Wage Workers’ Assembly” organized by the Poor People’s Campaign. Billed as a “moral march on Washington and to the polls” for the November elections, the event will target lawmakers and push them to address what the Poor People’s Campaign calls the “moral, economic, and political crisis” facing the nation.

As the organization points out in its call to the march, even before the coronavirus pandemic, 140 million people in the U.S. were just one emergency away from economic ruin. Since March 2020, hundreds of thousands have died and millions more were pushed to the edge of hunger and eviction. Too many still lack health care and are not paid a living wage, even as billionaire wealth soared by over $2 million during the COVID crisis.

Poor People’s Campaign Street Rally, June 4, in Lancaster, Penn. | via Poor People’s Campaign

From the west coast to the east and at all points in between, issues like those are pushing people to sign up and join in the organizing. And they’re bringing co-workers, family, friends, and neighbors with them to the nation’s capital. The massive march will occur, appropriately, on Juneteenth weekend, which celebrates the democratic revolution that ended slavery and established Black Reconstruction in the South.

“Over 1,000 people from Los Angeles joined the Poor People’s Campaign for a launch event we had downtown on May 16,” Rossana Cambron, a national co-chair of the Communist Party, told People’s World. “I belong to the Policy and Education Collective, which provides study sessions for the campaign’s Jubilee Platform.”

Co-chaired by Rev. William J. Barber II and Liz Theoharis, the Poor People’s Campaign began in May 2018 with 40 days of coordinated action at statehouses across the U.S. to confront systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism, and the war economy.

“After the L.A. action, we had a fundraiser, and raised over $9,000 to send people from Southern California that wanted to go to D.C. but were impacted by poverty,” Cambron said. She described readings of MLK’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech at universities and other community actions up and down the state. “There’s been actions for tenant rights and immigrant rights. Unions have been involved, including UFCW, SEIU and the #Fightfor15, the car wash workers, and clergy from different denominations.”

Steve Noffke, a member of the Michigan campaign’s Coordinating Committee, said there are 120 people signed up in his area for the 15-hour bus ride to D.C. The Michigan campaign has connections with the People’s Water Board and the General Baker Institute, “named after a very pro-left-wing auto worker,” Noffke adds.

“The Poor People’s Campaign is active on issues, especially around clean water for Flint, and we’re starting to see some of the housing groups are organizing.” For the People’s Water Board, the drinking water crisis in Flint was a big catalyst. “The former governor opened up the floodgates for lead to be going into people’s homes. Rather than buying clean water for the people to drink, they went with the cheaper, dirtier water from the Flint River.”

For more than a century, the major capitalist industries in Flint used the river as a toxic dumping site—leaving the mostly Black working families in the area with nothing to drink. “General Motors won’t even use their water,” Noffke said.

“From my point of view, another big issue is voter suppression,” he argued. The Michigan campaign conducted a letter-writing effort against 39 voter suppression bills put forward by the Republican-controlled Michigan legislature.

The bus from Michigan is just one of at least 250 planned across the U.S., and hundreds of union, faith, peace, and environmental justice groups are partners in the D.C. effort, including the AFL-CIO.

The Communist Party USA and Young Communist League Organizing Collectives around the nation are also building what they hope to be a big contingent for the national mobilization. Party members from North Carolina to Texas, California to Maine, and from New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit have all committed to being in the nation’s capital.

The Communist Party USA is organizing a large contingent for the June 18 march, with colorful banners and slogans planned. | via CPUSA

“Through this time of so much catastrophe, it’s been very hopeful to be able to bring people together to say, ‘Here’s this positive thing that we can do,’” Ohio CPUSA activist Molly Nagin says. “Whether around racism or housing, low-wage workers, healthcare, or the shootings and the way they want to arm teachers, what the Republicans and extreme right are doing right now to this country and have been doing is at a boiling point.”

Nagin has been helping mobilize for the action with local church congregations, a re-entry organization working with people coming out of prison, and a disability rights organization called Breaking Silences.

“I’ve seen it a few times now, that as soon as I mention the march on Washington, the whole collective can get back to work, and there’s less of that depression, overwhelmed, exhaustion mode. It becomes more of ‘Okay, we’ve got something to do.’”

The Poor People’s Campaign is working to continue and build on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was instrumental in bringing together the labor and civil rights coalition that defeated key planks of the Jim Crow counterrevolution. Then, as now, the forces of democracy and of the extreme right were in sharp confrontation.

“We have … come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now,” King declared at the 1963 March on Washington. “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”

The Poor People’s Campaign says it’s that time again.

To that end, two buses from New Haven, Conn., are booked to leave for D.C. The New Haven People’s Center is partnering with Unite Here Local 34 and SEIU 1199NE to represent the struggles unfolding there, issuing an invitation to young people and everyone to participate. During the COVID crisis, many unions and community and faith groups have organized for pandemic pay, better work schedules, measures to improve conditions for low-wage workers, to legally restrict anti-union “captive audience” meetings, and to tax the rich and move funds from military to human needs.

The battle between militarism and people’s needs also characterized the demands of King’s original Poor People’s Campaign. Even though gains like the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, and anti-poverty “Great Society” legislation were won, almost immediately the U.S. war against Vietnam was escalated, sucking up public money. That’s when King increasingly began to highlight the connection between racism, poverty, and militarism.

“It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both Black and white, through the poverty program,” he said in 1967. “Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated.”

“That’s what will happen to Build Back Better as a result of the billions being spent sending weapons to Ukraine,” warns Matthew Weinstein of Brooklyn for Peace (BFP). His organization has dedicated two Saturday mornings this month to leaflet in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza for June 18.

“We’ve been working hand in glove with the Poor People’s Campaign. It appealed to us because they don’t skirt around the issue of militarism and war.” As part of the Move The Money coalition, BFP is pushing for a city council resolution that would put New York on record opposing the bloated military budget.

In April, the anti-war coalition participated alongside SEIU 1199, Citizen Action, the United University Professions, the Islamic Center of North America, Physicians for a National Health Program, and others in a march through Wall Street culminating in a community meeting at Trinity Church. There, NYCHA resident Brenda Temple, an activist with the Committee for Independent Community Action, spoke about the need to invest in public housing.

However, “actions are one piece of what we do,” Kelly Smith told People’s World. Smith is one of three New York State campaign chairs and organizes in the NYC region with a big focus on faith communities. The other chairs organize in different parts of the state, including Buffalo, where Poor People’s Campaign activists supported vigils held in the wake of the racist massacre there. “A lot of our work is organizing and working with other groups, learning, doing political education, and canvassing.”

The New York Poor People’s Campaign supports the housing movement and efforts to pass the N.Y. Health Act, a bill for statewide universal healthcare. “At the same time, we’re looking at mass incarceration issues, cash bails, and ecological devastation,” Smith adds. “When we say militarism, we mean that from a national and war framework, and also [the militarization] of our communities, especially Black and brown communities.”

Legislation to help working-class and poor people has faced formidable enemies over the past several years. The racist Tea Party reaction gridlocked Congress during most of Barack Obama’s presidency, and then helped bring Trump to power.

Mobilizing in Newark, N.J., June 4. | via Poor People’s Campaign

But there’s also been a broad democratic and left-wing struggle that has formed to push a democratic agenda forward—from Occupy Wall Street in 2011, to the #Fightfor15 and a Union, to Black Lives Matter, the 2017 Women’s March, and more recent fights to defend abortion rights, LGBTQ equality struggles, and a new rising militancy in the labor movement, increasingly led by young workers.

The small-d democratic and socialist-oriented electoral struggles that supported Bernie Sanders, AOC, and Stacey Abrams are a part of that mass democratic movement, too.

The Poor People’s Campaign is working to bring many of these strands together in the nation’s capital on June 18, while pointing toward the November elections.

“I’ve been really excited about how many people are cross-pollinating,” Zillah Wesley told People’s World. Wesley is co-chair of the local Poor Peoples’ Campaign in D.C. “One lady came canvassing, coming through WAND (Women’s Action for New Directions) and was surprised by the outpouring of support. You can tell people are really feeling this.”

“[The campaign] really highlights D.C. statehood, that’s why I really vibe with it. We can’t afford to live here, you have to make $31 an hour to survive. The mayor keeps closing off the parks, and the unhoused are getting kicked out.”

Wesley listed off some of the grassroots support. “Homeworkers, healthcare workers, some of the people who work in local restaurants.” Servers and barbacks involved with One Fair Wage are part of the D.C. campaign. Various churches and synagogues are in the mix, as is the Brooklyn Manor Tenants’ Association. “It’s really warming my heart,” Wesley says.

To build support, the D.C. Poor People’s Campaign has been utilizing everything from canvassing and flyering to putting up yard signs to happy hours, even having a float in the Pride parade. A memorial service was held at the Lincoln Memorial “for all the people we lost during COVID because of this jacked-up healthcare system,” Wesley said. “I lost about 40 people, either close friends or family.”

The D.C. campaign is also playing a big role as hosts for the thousands descending on the city, serving dinners and breakfasts, and helping to arrange for accommodations. “All roads lead to here, so we’re trying to give an extravagant welcome.”

“We’re all impacted by the decisions that are made legislatively,” CPUSA co-chair Rossana Cambron explained, regarding the importance of taking these fights to Washington.

“The struggle to end poverty, cut the military budget, end institutionalized racism, the struggle for the environment, and resisting the moral narrative of the evangelicals—all of those things affect people. That’s why it’s key to join forces from the different areas around the country to bring the necessary change that we’re looking for.”

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

Cameron Orr is a musician and writer living in Brooklyn, New York.

People’s World, June 8, 2022, https://www.peoplesworld.org/

Unions back Poor People’s Campaign, renew demand for Biden meeting / by Mark Gruenberg

Rev. William Barber addresses a June 6th press conference. | Steve Pavey / Kairos Center for Religions, Rights & Social Justice via Poor People’s Campaign.

WASHINGTON—Leaders of the Service Employees, AFSCME, and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA are throwing their weight behind the Poor People’s Campaign’s demand—again—that Democratic President Joe Biden sit down with members of the nation’s poor to hear what it’s really like, and their demands and suggestions for change.

With fewer than two weeks to go before the campaign’s massive march on Washington on June 18, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, AFSCME President Lee Saunders, and new AFA-CWA Vice President Keturah Johnson joined the campaign’s co-chairs, the Revs. William Barber II and Liz Theoharis, at a June 6 D.C. press conference to release a letter demanding such a meeting.

“We are going to put in front of the American people the faces of people they do not think about,” Barber said, referring to at least 140 million poor and low-wealth people in the U.S., including just over half of all children.

The campaign wants to put those faces in front of Biden, too. So do Henry, Saunders, and Johnson, speaking for their unions. Two religious leaders, Rabbi Judah Pesner of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Methodist Rev. Melanie Mullen, joined in.

“On behalf of the two million members of SEIU, the millions more fighting for $15 and a union, and the millions fighting for every vote” and the right to vote, “we are proud to call on President Biden to meet with the poor and low-wealth people” and supporters, said Henry.

“Our communities are under attack from white supremacist violence,” combined with unaffordable health care, high exposure to the coronavirus pandemic’s ravages, “underfunded schools, and prices that keep rising,” she elaborated. Biden needs to hear that.

“We no longer will accept a system built on workers’ backs while billionaires profit from the pandemic,” Henry warned.

“Working people are still getting a raw deal, poor people are still getting a raw deal. They are overstretched and exploited and denigrated” and Biden needs to hear that face-to-face, Saunders, whose union has 1.4 million members, added.

Workers are hurting, too, AFA-CWA’s Johnson said. After four years of fruitless negotiations where “the employer refused to listen,” Johnson and her flight attendant colleagues at Piedmont Airlines were forced to strike. That led to a quick settlement.

“They want us to think poor and low-wealth people are powerless,” she said, referring to politicians as well as the corporate class. “But we are not.”

The campaign is demanding Biden meet with poor and low-wealth people. They’ve been the hardest hit by systemic poverty and racism, use of federal funds for war rather than domestic needs, problems obtaining health care and better education, and the need for both a decent minimum wage—at least $15 an hour—and the right to unionize.

“The disproportionate impact of these interlocking problems plagues poor and low-wage communities,” Theoharis added.

There’s been no response from Biden, personally.

Biden actually addressed the Poor People’s Campaign at a meeting in the Carolinas during the 2020 election campaign, and promised then to tackle the plight of poor and low-wealth people. His Build Back Better legislation, including repair and expansion of the tattered U.S. social safety net, would have been a start.

One of the few social safety net sections of BBB to survive the congressional meat-grinder, though, was a temporary expansion of the child care tax credit, and that expired at the end of last year. The rest of the BBB, including more money for schools, health care, and other social programs, has fallen victim to a Senate Republican filibuster threat.

If poor and low-wealth people “spoke to the nation,” especially during that year’s presidential debates and stretching into this year, “we could have had a different kind of debate” about how to end systemic poverty, Barber explained.  “It wouldn’t have been Democrat versus Republican. It would have been right versus wrong.”

But Biden is only one among many silent politicians, campaign leaders said. Others include all 50 Senate Republicans, most of their GOP colleagues in the House and in states, plus renegade Democratic Sens. Krysten Sinema (Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (W. Va.).

“People have to decide if they want those politicians to represent them,” said Barber.

So the campaign is not only again demanding a meeting with Biden and still mobilizing the masses for their June 18 march on Washington, but it’s also planning for marshalling poor and low-wealth people to have an electoral impact at the polls this fall.

That includes activating the Poor People’s Campaign’s 42 statewide organizations, and going door-to-door to discuss issues on people’s minds and ensure they’re properly registered, eligible and will vote. “We turned 1,200 people loose in 2020 and contacted millions,” he said.

Those canvassers also counteracted disinformation that led poor people in supposedly deep-red counties to vote against their own economic interests. Five Kentucky counties flipped, and voters helped elect pro-worker Gov. Andy Beshear (D), for example. A 25% increase in turnout by poor and low-wealth people in key “purple” states will swing elections, Barber stated.

“We’re not listening to the pundits” who predict poor and low-wealth people won’t turn out  Barber said.

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). El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People’s World en Washington, D.C. 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, June 7, 2022, https://www.peoplesworld.org/

A Poor People’s Pandemic Report links poverty, race, coronavirus deaths / by Mark Gruenberg

Rev. Dr. William Barber III talks poverty and the coronavirus.

WASHINGTON—Poverty is inextricably linked with the almost one million U.S. deaths, so far, from the coronavirus pandemic, a new and detailed report says. And the county-by-county statistics also reveal a disproportionate impact on people of color, it adds.

A Poor People’s Pandemic Report: Mapping The Intersection Of Poverty, Race And Covid-19—the formal name for the coronavirus—should serve as a resounding call to the entire country to attack the systemic ills which preceded the modern-day plague and only worsened it, said Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) Co-Chairs the Revs. William Barber II and Liz Theoharis.

While more non-Hispanic whites than any other group have died from the virus in conjunction with poverty, people of color have been disproportionately impacted, the report reveals.

Accompanied by poor and low-wealth speakers, some via zoom, from Jackson, Miss., Wausau, Wis., the Bronx, Goldsboro, N.C., and the Apache Nation in Arizona, speakers and investigators laid out the detailed research which should force policymakers to act on the problems. Those policymakers haven’t, so far.

Instead, policies have been deliberately crafted, Barber told a D.C. press conference, to worsen conditions for the estimated 43% of the U.S. who are poor or low-wealth, living paycheck to paycheck—if they even have paychecks.

“Covid-19 did not discriminate, but we did,” Barber said of the conditions—low income, poor housing or homelessness, lack of adequate funding for education, unavailable or too-costly health care, and more—that predated the pandemic and worsened it for the victims. “It does not have to be this way.”

Some “80% of the pandemic aid” went to corporations and the rich. The ultra-wealthiest class in the nation “exploit the tragedy” and enriched themselves by $2 trillion since the pandemic was first declared in March 2020, he added. Meanwhile, “poor people suffer.”

“A poverty-producing and sustaining system was also a death-dealing system. Within this analysis, we can see that it did not need to be this way, if only we were honest about poverty and systemic racism, and the systems of violence that allowed this tragedy.

“This is the painful truth we must confront before we can ever heal, before we can confront these systems of gross injustice, and before we can live into the promise of this nation.”

“We cannot say this is because of individual choices or behaviors. Something deeper is at work–systems that prey on the poor, poor white people and poor people of color.”

The figures themselves are damning. The report divides the nation’s 3,042 counties up into tenths—the tenth with the highest median incomes per person ($92,000-$142,000) down to the tenth with the lowest ($12,000-$46,000), and compared Covid-19 disease and especially death rates.

The median is the point where half the population is above and half below. The report defines the poorest counties as those with median per-person incomes under $28,000 yearly for a single person and double that for a family. Those are double the official federal poverty lines, which have not been updated in decades.

The overall Covid-19 death rate in the nation’s poorest counties is double that in the richest counties, even though the poorest counites have some residents whose incomes are above the median and the richest counties contain pockets of poverty.

“Covid-19 has been a poor people’s pandemic,” Theoharis stated.

The numbers are damning. So are the stories.

Jessica Jimenez, a 10-year caregiver from the Bronx, said she had to use pandemic aid “to make sure there was food on my table” for herself and her four kids. Her sister, a hospital worker, “got covid three times.”

“Not being able to pay the rent or pay bills on time was one of my biggest worries.”

Democratic President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill, now marooned in the Senate due to opposition from all 50 Republicans and renegade Democrats Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, is supposed to help shore up the safety net Jimenez and others need.

Northern Wisconsin PPC Chair Bruce Grau noted that his hometown, Wausau, is 80% white, but more than 50% poor. “Our rates of deaths and hospitalizations led the state” and in one nursing home, 15 of the 18 residents died, due to short-staffing as the home’s owners pursued profits.

“Had the CEO invested in more staff, some of those people could have been saved,” he said. Marathon County, whose seat is Wausau, has a median income of $62,233, but a quarter of its people live below that $28,000 poverty line—and it’s suffered 342 deaths per 100,000 people.

And the federal government first had drug companies use Indigenous people as “guinea pigs” to make sure the anti-virus vaccines were safe and effective, said Vanessa Nosie of the Apache Nation. But when the vaccines proved their worth, all of a sudden the federal Indian Health Service didn’t provide them.

“Our lives weren’t valued,” until the Apache Tribal Council’s chairman, using the tribe’s own money went out and bought the vaccines for their people.

Overall, the pandemic began with roughly equal death rates among the groups of counties, the report says. But that didn’t last long, and ratios only worsened when pandemic surges, including those of the delta and omicron variants, hit, said Poor People’s Campaign Policy Director Shailly Gupta Barnes.

In the winter of 2020-21, the first surge, the ratio of deaths in the poorest 300 counties was four and a half times that in the richest counties. When the delta variant hit, the death rate in the poorest counties, those where 42%-92% of residents earn below the median, was five times that of the richest counties. Omicron’s onset produced a death rate in the poorest counties three times that of the richest.

That’s important because another variant, BA-2, is increasing, even as Congress wrangles over further anti-pandemic funds needed to provide testing and vaccinations. Republican obstructionism has forced the Democratic Biden administration to cut its request down to $10 billion—it was double that—and the GOP is delaying even that sum.

The higher death rates are also more prevalent in the South and Southwest, though poor Northern counties, like the Bronx, also appear. And, while it’s not in the report, the federal Centers for Disease Control map of coronavirus rates by county shows spots of yellow (“caution” warranted) and orange (“danger”) counties scattered nationwide—except for one huge cluster, combined yellow and orange, covering the traditional and very poor coal country of Appalachia.

So, for example, Galax County, Va., has a median income of $33,575, and 49.85% of its people live below 200% ($28,000) of the federal poverty line of $14,000 yearly for a single person. It also has a coronavirus death rate of 1,134 per 100,000 people. It’s in Southwest Virginia coal country.

The richest county, Loudoun, Va., in the D.C. suburbs, has a per capita income of $142,299, 10.2% live below the poverty line, and it’s suffered 84 deaths per 100,000. Both Loudoun and Galax are more than three-fourths non-Hispanic white.

Half of all Bronx residents live below the report’s $28,000 poverty line, the median income is $40,088, and its death rate—much higher when the pandemic began—is 538 per 100,000 people, the report notes. The Bronx is 9% Non-Hispanic white, 43.6% Black, and, showing how Hispanic people overlap the other two groups, 56% Hispanic.

The entire report, including interactive graphics and maps, can be found HERE.

Mark Gruenberg 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, April 5, 2022, https://www.peoplesworld.org/