Poor People’s Campaign launches with letter to GOP leaders

WASHINGTON—Alessandro Morales Cardozo is one of the working poor. He’s also a Dreamer, a janitor, and a Service Employees shop steward. And he’s raising two kids as a single father in D.C., and wondering if – or when – Donald Trump will throw him out of the country.

And that’s why he joined a chilly windswept kickoff to the second Poor People’s Campaign, on Feb. 5.

“If I lose my job” as a cleaner in one of D.C.’s buildings between the White House and the U.S. Capitol, “how will I take care of my kids?” Morales Cardozo asked at the campaign’s press conference on the Capitol lawn. “This my home,” he said of the U.S. “These are my children. There is no place for me in Mexico,” which he left at age 13.

The campaign launched in D.C. and 32 state capitals with letters and petitions to lawmakers and other officials demanding they attack systemic racism, poverty, hunger, the destruction of voting rights and a pro-militarist tilt to federal spending.

It will culminate with 40 days of peaceful civil disobedience, calling attention to those demands, between Mother’s Day and the summer solstice. And on that day, June 23, there will be another mass march on Washington, sponsors said.

Organized by the Rev. William Barber, founder and leader of the Moral Mondays movement that began as a crusade for restored voting rights and civil rights in North Carolina – and has since spread — the new Poor People’s Campaign aims to emulate the first such drive, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 50 years ago, before his assassination by a white racist.

Like Dr. King’s drive, this campaign encompasses economic demands as well as political demands. But this time, there are even more causes. The 690,000-800,000 Dreamers, who face deportation by GOP

President Trump is one of them.

There is no shortage of problems the U.S. faces, said Barber, who addressed the D.C. crowd by speakerphone via his co-chair’s computer mounted on a speaker’s stand. “There must be a change in our moral narrative and public policy,” Barber’s voice faintly echoed. “What is going on in this country is contrary to our deepest moral values.”

“We have 14 million children living in poverty and most of them are white,” he said, contrary to popular opinion. That opinion is reinforced by racism and pushed by xenophobic politicians – no names were mentioned – other speakers said.

“The prejudice, the lack of living wages, the tax cuts for the wealthy, the ecological devastation and spending four to five times as much on war and militarism” than on programs to help people all must be focuses of the coming protests, Barber added.

“This is why we’re serving notice today,” Barber said.

That notice, at least at the campaign’s start, took the form of letters and petitions to lawmakers, carried by the group in D.C.  to the offices of House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Campaign organizers expected neither to be sympathetic.

Other causes this Poor People’s Campaign is pushing include legalizing the Dreamers through lawful – Congress-passed — restoration of the DACA program that let them stay in the U.S. and work in the open, an end to “voter oppression laws,” stopping “ecological havoc,” universal health care, reversing federal spending priorities away from the military and pulling the 40 million people now living in poverty out of it, they said.

Many of those were in the letter to Ryan and McConnell, leaders of Congress’ ruling Republicans. Not there, but also a voting rights cause mentioned at the rally: Full representation in Congress, with voting rights, for the 700,000 residents of D.C. Like territories, they now elect only a non-voting delegate.

At least one of the Poor People’s Campaign’s causes, legalizing the Dreamers, may come to a congressional showdown soon. By Feb. 8, Congress must pass another money bill to keep the government going and the Dreamers demand lawmakers attach the full Dream Act – which would legalize their right to stay in the country – to it. They also plan marches in various cities this week.

The point is to get Congress to overcome Trump’s plan to throw all of the Dreamers out, starting on March 5.

“We demand a change in course. Our faith traditions and our U.S. and state constitutions testify to an immorality that leaves out the poor,” the campaign’s letter to the lawmakers said. “Our Poor People’s Campaign is to save the soul of America.”


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.