Parade of hurting people prods lawmakers to pass Build Back Better
Poor People's Campaign via Twitter

WASHINGTON—One by one, advocating ending income inequality, strengthening and restoring voting rights, cutting military spending, extending the child care tax credit, raising the minimum wage, and more, a parade of people hurting from exploitation by corporations, the economic elite, and their political allies, took a hand-held microphone in D.C. Monday to campaign for their combined causes.

Marshaled by the Poor People’s Campaign and hailing from 32 states and D.C., thousands of people demanded lawmakers, and specifically resistant Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, W-Va., heed their voices—not those of corporate campaign contributors—and pass Democratic President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better social programs expansion.

But not just that, they added, in the culmination of a car caravan from Martinsburg, W. Va., where they rallied early the same morning, Dec. 13, in front of one of Manchin’s state offices.

The car caravan was the latest in a series of marches in Manchin’s domain, on the U.S. Capitol, and sometimes both. All stress the same themes: Demanding the nation eradicate poverty, income and societal inequality, fight rampant racism and white nationalism, cut “the war economy” in half while raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing the right to unionize, and especially the right to vote.

The marchers want and said the country can afford, to eliminate income inequality. They want universal health care coverage. They want, and said, the U.S. must live up to its commitments enshrined in the Constitution of equal rights, especially voting rights.

And they want Democratic President Joe Biden to meet with them, not “negotiate in the backroom” with Manchin and Sinema, as Poor People’s Campaign Co-Chair Rev. William Barber II told reporters afterward. Then Biden must make eradicating poverty, racism, and inequality and strengthening voting rights his cause. Biden staffers have met with the campaign’s members; he hasn’t.

The campaigners also declared the nation sends more money, $75 billion, to one military contractor, Lockheed Martin, this year than the BBB bill’s entire 10-year cost for upgrading child care, including paying those child care workers at least $15 hourly. “The BBB is $170 billion a year,” said veteran Tim Watt of Indianapolis. The military spending bill “is $778 billion, every year.”

And that contrast, Barber and the others said, is economically and morally wrong. “It’s not that we have a scarcity of ideas. It’s not that we have a scarcity of resources,” meaning money, said Barber. “It’s that we have a scarcity of courage,” politically.

And they demanded, in Barber’s words, that Congress “Get it done in 2021!” And they won’t go away, either, he added. “We’ll be back in ’22, ’23, ’24, and ’25,” he declared.

The noontime rally of hundreds of people at the foot of Capitol Hill targeted the Senate. The BBB bill, at $175 billion yearly for 10 years, is hung up in the 50-50 chamber. The Democratic-run House approved it earlier this fall on a party-line vote.

Republicans are expected to unanimously oppose BBB. They contend it would cost almost three times as much as the measure allocates. Manchin says the cost may be too much given the U.S. is suffering its highest annual inflation rate, just over 6%, in 30 years—a cost proposition 100-150 economists refuted in a statement the campaign released.

Sinema opposes BBB’s tax increases on corporations and the rich, which would undo much of the financial hit the government took from the 2017 Trump-GOP tax cut for those interests.

And the unelected Senate parliamentarian may rule the BBB bill’s program to let at least six million undocumented people legally stay in the U.S.—contributing their talents and tax revenues to the economy—runs afoul of Senate budget rules. Technically, the BBB is a budget “reconciliation” bill, which needs only 51 votes, not 60, to pass.

The speakers brushed all that aside, saying the nation is rich enough to help all its people and must ensure everyone who wants to vote can vote, without being hampered or denied by political repression —inspired, though speakers didn’t say so, by Republicans kowtowing to former GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump’s “Stop the steal!” lies.

“There’s a lie of scarcity and there’s a lie of being ‘moderate,’” Barber said, referring to the two holdout Democratic senators. “All ‘being moderate’ means is you do just enough to do nothing.” The other 46 Democrats and both independents support BBB.

The individual speakers were just as blunt, and sometimes more so.

“I was born in the segregated South in the 1950s,” said Frank Thomas, one of two Arizonans who followed Barber to the mic. “Pain and poverty exploded into violence” in Los Angeles, where he then lived, in 1965. The Voting Rights Act, since emasculated by the GOP-named Supreme Court majority, passed earlier that year. GOP state regimes have rushed to restrict voting rights ever since.

Quoting the Declaration of Independence, Thomas added: “We need to let them know that governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed and that when any form of government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.”

“And while we’re at it, get rid of the racist filibuster,” added fellow Arizonan John Wessell McCoy, referring to the arcane Senate rule that requires 60 votes to pass almost anything—except budget bills, judicial nominations, and executive branch nominees.

“Pass the BBB plan and voting rights legislation to combat classist and racist legislation” Georgia’s GOP-dominated legislature approved in 2016 and this year, urged the Rev. Neil Tellier. “Sixty percent of those creating these laws did so to fit their narrative of the stolen election.”

Quoting the Biblical prophet Micah’s admonition to people to “do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God,” Rev. Paul Dunn of Charleston, W. Va., the state capital, admonished Manchin that delaying the BBB bill “is not acting justly.”

The next West Virginian, Catherine Jozwik was even more caustic.

Manchin, she said, ignored thousands of his constituents and did nothing to stop a Danish firm from erecting a massive “toxic waste factory” on the Kanawha River opposite a low-income neighborhood and a school where most of the students get free or reduced-price meals. Now the area is rife with health problems, she added.

“West Virginians don’t need to choose between our jobs, our environment, and our children,” Jozwik said.

The BBB bill contains money for environmental cleanups, for aid to schools, and for shifting the nation to a “green” manufacturing economy. That, too, is anathema to Manchin.

There are low-income people not just in poor states such as West Virginia and Alabama, pointed out Dr. Megan Drilling. “There are 4.7 million low-income and poor people in Illinois” and 78 million such women nationally. “Women in Illinois need Build Back Better. Women are underrepresented in our misogynistic government and overrepresented in poverty.

“I’m speaking to you, woman-to-woman,” Drilling said, addressing Sinema. “Help other little kids get out of that abandoned gas station” Sinema lived in as a poor little girl.

Corporations and the rich are “counting on us to remain pitted against each other” by race and class, McCoy added. A common theme, voiced by McCoy, Barber, and other speakers, is the crusaders for all those causes both transcend race and class lines and will stick together.

After the Capitol Hill rally, many conducted a peaceful protest in the streets, trying to get to the two senators’ D.C. offices. Capitol Police arrested dozens, even as Barber told marchers to “raise their hands in prayer” to the police.

Those officers, Barber explained, “went through hell on January 6.” That day, thousands of Trumpites invaded the Capitol in an attempted coup d’etat against Biden and for their kingpin, Trump.  “When you touch those people”—the police—“today, you’re touching God’s children,” said Barber. Three police died in the invasion or coping with its trauma afterwards.


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.