From West Virginia to DC, Poor People’s Campaign targets Manchin
Poor People's Campaign in the nation's capital

MARTINSBURG, W. VA.—After decorating their cars with messages and holiday streamers, hundreds of Poor People’s Campaign activists descended on D.C. today in yet another show of support for President Biden’s Build Back Better social programs expansion legislation.

Led by campaign co-chairs the Revs. William Barber II and Liz Theoharis, the caravan started at 9 a.m. from Martinsburg, W. Va., after a rally and car-decorating event there aimed, again, at getting holdout Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin to support the measure and the Senate as a whole to pass it. The House already did, months ago.

Manchin’s latest excuses for stalling are that BBB could balloon the federal deficit at a time when inflation is at a 30-year high, at an annual rate, while unemployment is declining. The other Democratic holdout, Arizonan Krysten Sinema, has been less public about her objections to the 10-year $175-billion-yearly measure. Neither has expressed any concern, however, about the military budget which will cost taxpayers 8 trillion dollars over the next 10 years, four times as much as Build Back Better.

Sinema’s main gripe is its tax increases on corporations and the rich, a stand she’s shared at fundraisers with rich campaign contributors, including a soiree earlier this year in Paris, France. Sinema and Manchin don’t face voters until 2024.

“Manchin’s position and Sinema’s positions continue to cause people to die. and it’s all because of greed, just straight-up greed and catering to the wealthy rather than caring about low and poor-income people, of every race. It’s not a Black issue, it’s an issue of every race and we’ve got to fight to change it,” Barber told MSNBC’s Alicia Menendez on Dec. 12.

“Poor and low-income people are saying we can no longer wait for voting rights, living wages, healthcare, immigration reform and so much more and that we also must take life-saving action to compel Congress and the White House to defend our democracy and lift from the bottom so everyone rises,” Theoharis added in a pre-rally statement.

“Get it done in 2021!” summarizes their demand. The same demand is on a petition at

But unless Sinema and Manchin join the other 46 Democrats and both independents to vote for the BBB Act, thus letting Vice President Kamala Harris break the Senate’s 50-50 partisan tie, the measure goes nowhere.

The BBB Act also includes provisions specifically important to workers. It funds an expansion of child and elder care, with a requirement that caregivers be paid at least $15 an hour. It also vastly increases fines for labor law-breaking and extends those fines to corporate honchos—CEOs, board members, and other top execs—personally.

Several days before the car caravan, the five leaders of the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign—including West Virginia native and longtime union organizer Stewart Acuff–demanded Manchin stop ducking meetings and explain his stands to the PPC face-to-face. There was one “virtual” meeting in February, via zoom, and none since, despite repeated demands, rallies, and town halls in West Virginia.

They’re also getting increasingly fed up with their senator.

“We should be preparing for the holidays and spending time with our loved ones, instead just days before Christmas, we write to you again because too many of us and our families will suffer needlessly because you refuse to pass moral policies. We are infuriated and fed up that you continue to care more about lobbyists and corporations than you do about hard-working poor and low-income people of West Virginia,” their letter began.

“We’ve had enough of your sinful lies about what we need and want. Since your newest set of lies includes saying that Congress ‘has done everything it can to help people,’ we demand you meet with those people you’ve been talking about and tell those lies to our faces.”

The motorcade participants, joined by PPC members from 31 other states and D.C.,  and delegations from 39 allied organizations, “demand that you meet with your constituents on these very important issues. It’s time you stop hiding from the people your decisions are hurting and meet with poor and low-income people from your state, instead of hanging out with lobbyists on your yacht,” their letter adds.

The Poor People’s Campaign members from the Mountaineer State reiterated their point that a vote for it would help hundreds of thousands of Manchin’s own constituents, in a state with the second-lowest median income in the U.S., ahead of only Mississippi.

“We represent the 710,000 West Virginians who are poor and low-income and the 351,000 West Virginians without a living wage. We are the 187,000 children living in poverty in West Virginia and the more than 108,000 people without health insurance. We represent the 346,000 children who will lose benefits from the child tax credit if you keep trying to undermine the Build Back Better plan,” they wrote.

The child care tax credit, $300 monthly per child, ends Dec. 31 unless Congress extends it.

“Senator Manchin, you say your positions are backed by the people. This is a lie! Nearly 80% of West Virginians want to expand voting rights. 75% of West Virginia voters see the importance of the job creation potential of the Build Back Better Agenda. And 65% of West Virginia voters say making historic investments to improve the economic situation of the people is an important reason to pass the Build Back Better agenda. This is what the people of West Virginia are saying, yet you threaten to block this life-saving plan after having cut it down too far already.”

“We say, Build Back Better, voting rights protection, Voting Rights Advancement act. The For The People Act”—both measures designed to reverse Republican-orchestrated voter repression of people of color, women, young people and workers”–and raise the minimum wage to $15.” Barber told MSNBC.

“In Washington, D.C., they like to split you up. But peoples’ lives are not split up like that.

“And 52 senators, 50 Republicans and two Democrats, are blocking millions of people. It is a form of abuse, political abuse, it is sinful, it is wrong, and so…impacted people, are coming to say, this is not Biden against Manchin, this is Manchin against us.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist 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 tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.