Poor People’s Campaign launches civil disobedience actions for voting rights
Rev. William Barber says that the Poor Peoples Campaign will focus this summer on the fight for voting rights. | Kaitlin McKeown/The Herald-Sun via AP

WASHINGTON—Stepping up its drive to force Congress, and in particular the 50-50 Senate, to pass voting rights legislation, the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) announced July 12 it will launch a month of Moral Mondays, featuring peaceful civil disobedience in D.C. and state capitals, through August 2.

The announcement was almost immediately followed by news that Texas Democratic lawmakers were fleeing their state and were on their way to Washington D.C. to press the Congress and the president to pass voting rights legislation that would override the voter repression laws the GOP is trying to ram through in their state and in other states around the country. By fleeing Texas they are preventing the quorum Texas law requires to pass the legislation.

Preservation and expansion of voting rights will be at the top of the Poor Peoples Campaign’s agenda this month. That’s particularly timely.

President Biden is joining what has become a national uprising against voter repression today when he will give a major speech in Philadelphia, often considered the birthplace of democracy in America. Biden assured leaders of civil rights groups last week that he would make preserving democracy a top cause.

Most of the Texas state Democratic legislators flew to D.C., on secretly organized charter flights yesterday also to demand passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act by the U.S. Senate. En masse, they left the state capitol building in Austin, again preventing the quorum the right-wing GOP majority there needed to pass yet another enormously repressive voting law targeting Black and brown people.

The Poor People’s Campaign’s “Season of Non-Violent Moral Action” began with a mass call-in before, during and after the July 12 press conference called by the group. It continues with a demonstration led by women in D.C. on July 19—the anniversary of the first women’s rights convention, in Seneca Falls, N.Y.

There will be events in state capitals the following Monday and an August 2 non-violent sit-in, with peaceful civil disobedience and planned arrests to dramatize the causes, in D.C. The whole campaign drew an immediate strong support statement from the Service Employees. Details and sign-up for the events are on the campaign’s website.

“One reason we’re doing this every Monday” is that one peaceful protest at the start of the civil rights era, in Greensboro, N.C., and another in Montgomery, Ala., “spurred and spawned” similar actions nationally, said the Rev. William Barber II, the Poor People’s Campaign founder and co-chair.

The campaign intends to duplicate that success. And that’s not all.

Other civil rights groups plan a march on Washington for those causes, notably the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, on August 28, the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s. famous 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Justice.

“How much longer do we wait? Until the whole democratic infrastructure is falling apart?” Barber challenged.

The Poor People’s Campaign, like other progressive groups, including the CPUSA, focuses on specific goals and legislation it wants senators to approve. One is For the People Act, the comprehensive political reform bill. It would also overturn and negate the repressive GOP state bills and laws.

The John Lewis Act would restore the Voting Rights Act’s original hammers, notably federal “preclearance” of voting changes in governments with repressive histories. The five-person GOP-named U.S. Supreme Court majority wrecked preclearance almost a decade ago, and racist GOP state legislative majorities have taken advantage of it via ever-increasing repressive measures since then.

The PPC’s immediate agenda also includes demanding Congress raise the federal minimum wage to $15 hourly and to eliminate the filibuster, the archaic and racist-crafted Senate rule that lets a minority of 41 senators block any and all legislation, except tax and money bills.

Presbyterian Rev. Jimmie Hawkins explained the minimum wage hike advocacy: “Millions of American workers are overworked, underpaid and denied benefits. The needs of this nation are not partisan.”

“The ultimate fear of the elite is when Black and white people join together” for causes such as those, said Barber. Those moral causes, especially voting rights, led Barber to establish “Moral Mondays” marches in his home state, North Carolina, after its GOP-dominated and gerrymandered legislature passed voter repression laws. The marches evolved into the nationwide Poor People’s Campaign.

“When they see religious leaders and labor leaders and moral leaders hooked up together, they’ve gotta act,” Barber said of obstructionist senators.

One speaker, Bishop Tavis Grant of East Chicago, Ind., from Operation PUSH, took direct aim at the contrast between the Poor People’s Campaign goal to preserve and expand voting rights and the goal of the Trumpite invaders of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

They demanded lawmakers overturn Biden’s Electoral College victory and retain their Leader,  GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump, disregarding his wholesale lies about “stop the steal” and “voter fraud” in the 2020 election. Trump particularly targeted U.S. cities with majorities of people of color.

“Now is the time to rise above the insurrection and call for the resurrection that would revive the spirit of America,” Grant declared. “We will not let the 1% rule the 99%.”

The campaign drew strong support from SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, whose union is majority-female and heavily people of color.

“Millions of working people delivered a message at the ballot box last year: We need a new normal, so families no longer struggle to make ends meet every day because corporations and self-interested politicians treat workers as sacrificial, not essential,” her statement said.

“Our elected leaders have the moral responsibility to ensure we all have the chance to win a better future, by passing $15/hr and protecting democracy with the passage of the For the People Act.  SEIU is proud to stand with the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, during their Season of Prayer & Protest To Save Our Democracy.

“Together we will fight against the reckless disregard for life” from the elite and their political puppets “and make sure all of us, no matter our race or where we come from, have the health, safety, and security we deserve.”

“The Constitution doesn’t say ‘We the Supreme Court,’ or ‘We the state legislatures’” rule, said speaker Barbara Arnwine. “It says ‘We, the people.’”


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.