Hundreds of thousands join the New Poor People’s Campaign virtual March
Demonstrators march outside the U.S. Capitol during the Poor People's Campaign rally at the National Mall in Washington on Saturday, June 23, 2018. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Poor People's Campaign events for June 21-22, 2020, were held online, part of a nationwide "Virtual March on Washington." | Jose Luis Magana / AP

WASHINGTON—From eradication of poverty, an end to U.S. racism, to dismantling the war machine and creating a Green New Deal with thousands of well-paying jobsespecially union jobshundreds of thousands of people demanded a complete reversal and creation of a better society in three virtual mass marches on D.C. the weekend of June 20-21.

The point of those New Poor People’s Campaign events was to reiterate an interlocking list of demands for specific measures to end poverty and racism in the U.S. And to set the stage for the next part of the mass movement: Registration and voting.

Co-chair Rev. Liz Theoharis speaks during the virtual march on Washington. | Poor People’s Campaign (@UniteThePoor) via Twitter

“This isn’t about conservative versus liberal. That’s too puny,” said the Rev. William Barber II, the NPPC co-chair, with the Rev. Liz Theoharis. “It isn’t about right versus left. It’s about life versus death.”

To further their cause, the NPPC released a new and more comprehensive Moral Justice Jubilee Policy Platform available on its website.

Poverty alone may be approaching half the population, Barber said, due to the current depression, which has thrown at least 40 million people out of work, on top of the 140 million who were poor even before the crash hit.

The Moral Justice Jubilee Policy is a 14-page set of specific demands of ways to root out entrenched racism, dismantle the U.S. war machine and redirect military money, which totals $718 billion this year, towards education, health and social welfare, demilitarize the police and bring them under control and create a new and just economy that includes strong workers’ rights and millions of new well-paying jobs, especially union jobs, via the Green New Deal.

They demanded massive pro-green change to the economy, including an end to fracking and refinery and pipeline construction. One video speaker, former Vice President Al Gore, pushed that point, adding all problems they’re fighting againstpoverty, exploitation, and climate destructionare interwoven.

“For far too long, the poor, the immigrants, the people of color have been blamed for society’s problems,” Theoharis said before quoting Biblical prophets Micah and Jeremiah and the gospel of Matthew, on social justice. “We’ve been fed the lies of scarcity in a society of abundance…We want to break through the lie that only small changes are possible, or the lie that the rich and powerful can save us.”

Political change, particularly curbing corporate interests and their power over the rest of us, was a strong theme, too. “Fearsome and illegitimate power and money are combining to destroy what remains of our democracy,” Barber declared. “Ignoring the poor and protecting the rich is evil,” Theoharis added.

Barber pointed out, however, that the NPPC does not endorse candidates, but mobilizes votersnotably poor voters whom politicians of both parties have ignored, and who are discouraged as a result.

But economist Julianne Malveaux took aim at GOP President Donald Trump, too, though not by name. Citing his “Make America great again” slogan, she scornfully asked: “Great for who?”

“Black Americans and poor Americans have always been in crisis. The way capitalism works is the poor at the bottom are being exploited so the others can make some money. It’s the function of a predatory capitalist economy.”

At least one rank-and-file speaker, a woman from Dallas, was even more pointed. “We are being attacked by the corporate KKK,” she said. “White supremacy used to be wrapped in a sheet. Now it’s in a corporate business suit.”

Barber and the NPPC platform didn’t spare right-wing preachers either. One plank in their platform demands combat against “the distorted narrative of religious nationalism.”

The hundreds of NPPC co-sponsors, including 12 unions, ranged from Advocates for Youth to the Zeta Phi Beta sorority. Many teamed up to broadcast the rallies on social media, accounting for the huge turnout: At least 150,000 attended the first 3-1/2-hour session that began at 10 a.m. June 20, and thousands more tuned into rebroadcasts that night and the following evening.

Union sponsors included the United Electrical Workers, the Auto Workers, the Communications Workers, the Association of Flight Attendants, the Government Employees, both big teachers unions, the Steelworkers, the Postal Workers, Fight For $15 And A Union, the Service Employees, the Painters and Unite Here.

The NPPC’s first session alone far outdrew right-wing President Trump’s campaign rally at an arena in Tulsa, Okla. Trump defied health warnings about large crowds spreading the coronavirus. As of 7:30 p.m. June 20, that pandemic has sickened 2.251 million people in the U.S., and killed 119,654 nationwide.

The high NPPC turnout was also driven by current events, including the economic depression, the pandemic, police murders of unarmed African Americanswith no justice in those casesand subsequent daily mass marches nationwide demanding fundamental change to root out entrenched racism in police and society as a whole.

Other deep causes exist, Barber, Theoharis and other speakers said.

They include a government beholden to corporate interests, systemic poverty used as a method of repression, consistent high joblessnessranging up to 75% at one Native American reservationfor people of color, and divide-and-conquer tactics of the elite used against people of color, poor whites, women and union workers.

“Less than 50% of Black adults have a job,” due to the depression, Unite Here Vice President Nia Winston noted. She was one of four union leaders to speak, along with Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson, and AFSCME President Lee Saunders.

The problems also include deep-seated police attitudes towards people of color, plus police militarization. “No police should be walking around with military equipment, with tear gas, with tanks,” said Claudia De La Cruz of the South Bronx. “It’s crazy.” One platform plank calls for an end to the Defense Department turnover of heavy military equipment to local police forces.

All this should lead to systemic societal change via systemic governmental change, Barber saidchange achieved peacefully through the ballot box, he emphasized.

Co-chair Rev. William Barber speaks during the virtual march on Washington. | Poor People’s Campaign (@UniteThePoor) via Twitter

Quoting from the Declaration of Independence, Barber explained: “It is the right of the people to alter or abolish any form of government that becomes destructive of these ends (human rights) and to institute a new form of government.

“It is time to change this long train of abuses,” he added. Government “can be altered and a new and better government can be instituted.”

Other speakers took up other causes in the NPPC agenda.

“My co-workers and I started organizing a union,” at their Starbucks in Orlando, Fla., barista Olivia Williams said. “We were frustrated by management’s refusal to provide personal protective equipment” against the coronavirus. “We’re not afraid to fight.”

“Where we try to fight, our ability to do so is taken from us by right-to-work” laws, said one coal miner from Southwest Virginia. “As long as we’re divided, they”the corporate elite“can conquer.”

“Black and brown students whose schools were denied half a trillion dollars are now being told by the Republicans in the Senate they should return to schools in the fallschools with even less funding” than before the pandemic, added Weingarten.

The NPPC originally planned a mass physical march on Washington, but the coronavirus pandemic and the fear of infection in large crowds shelved that. The virtual march far outpaced the campaign’s first march on Washington, almost exactly two years ago, which drew 25,000 people, Barber said.

“America must hear herself and see herself,” he declared. “It’s time for transformation, reconstruction and a moral revival….Now is the time for eloquent rage.

“We came…to build a movement to rise up together and shift up the moral narrative. Somebody’s been beating our people and we won’t be silent anymore”a common theme from speakers during the virtual event.

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CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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