Poor People’s Campaign tells Sen. Feinstein: Hold the line on Build Back Better!
Marilyn Bechtel/PW

SAN FRANCISCO – Supporters of the Poor People’s Campaign: a National Call for Moral Revival gathered at Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office here Nov. 10, joining the Campaign’s Moral Witness Wednesday: Economic Investment for the People, held at Senate offices around the country to demand the lawmakers fully support the Biden administration’s Build Back Better Act. California Campaign supporters also gathered at Democratic  Sen. Alex Padilla’s offices In Los Angeles and Sacramento.

With the House of Representatives expected to take final action on the Build Back Better bill later this month, it is anticipated that the Senate will soon take up the measure.

Although the original Build Back Better legislation’s $3.5 trillion was “not nearly enough,” Rachel West told Campaign supporters gathered outside Feinstein’s office, “it would bring large benefits to poor and low-income people, to children, and to the environment. We are here to call on Sen. Feinstein to invest in the people and hold the line to make sure all the lifesaving elements and programs are included in the plan.”

Supporters echoed her words with a chant, “Senator Feinstein, hold the line, on BBB!”

West cited key elements of the measure: Six million 3 and 4 year-olds benefiting from universal pre-kindergarten, 4 million people gaining health coverage through the expansion of Medicaid, extending the expanded child tax credit for millions of parents, $250 million saved through giving the federal government power to negotiate drug prices, four weeks of paid family and medical leave.

“The Build Back Better bill is not the solution, but it is an important step in a series of steps to invest in the lives and livelihoods of the people,” she said, “especially the 140 million poor and low-income people in the country.” Extending the tax credit would benefit over 65 million children, lifting more than 4 million above the official poverty line. An additional 18 million people could gain paid family and medical leave.

The Poor People’s Campaign continues to demand action on voting rights, dignity and protections for all undocumented immigrants, and climate protections beyond those in the Build Back Better Act, West told the gathering.

Since the measure was introduced, said Ward Kanowsky, discussion has focused on how much Build Back Better will cost. “What you don’t hear is talk about what happens if we don’t invest in BBB, which really means, what happens if we don’t invest in health care expansion? Or in early childhood education? Or paid family leave?

“Or to put it more bluntly, what happens if we don’t invest, but choose to ignore the voices of the 140 million poor and low-income people who stand to lose the most if the Build Back Better Act isn’t passed.”

Ward cited the words of Poor People’s Campaign co-chair Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, about “waking the sleeping giant” of poor and low-income voters who in the 2020 election made up at least one-fifth of the total electorate in 45 states, and up to 40 percent of the electorate in most of the battleground states.

Marilyn Bechtel/PW

“I think that’s what we’re doing today,” Ward said. “We’re awakening that sleeping giant by demanding that the BBB plan be passed, including those life-saving elements we’ve already referred to. When you hear politicians like Sen. Manchin and Sen. Sinema talk about the cost of the BBB plan – think about the cost of not getting it passed. Let’s awaken that sleeping giant, and let’s start today!”

Patricia St. Onge drew on her heritage – French Canadian and Mohawk by birth and adopted Cheyenne-Lakota – to put the day’s Moral Witness Actions in a broader context. She told supporters, “The Mohawk Constitution says all our deliberations must be made with the seventh generation in mind … Even though we’re small in numbers, our parents and their parents and their parents, there’s a broad caucus of people who are so grateful we’re doing this work together.”

Though gatherings may be small, she said, they are multiplying across the U.S. “Who we are as a nation has been interlopers and enslavers – what we’re bringing today, and what the Poor People’s Campaign is doing everywhere, is to say, we can do better than this, we can do more than this.”

By coming together, St. Onge said, “we create the kind of safety-net the government should be providing. We pay for war, we should pay for peace and justice!”

California Poor People’s Campaign quad chair Nell Myhand opened the gathering, leading participants in singing Step by Step – a song based on words from the constitution of a 19th-century mineworkers’ union, set to an Irish folk tune and made famous by the great folk singer Pete Seeger:

“Step by step the longest march can be won, can be won.

Many stones can form an arch, singly none, singly none.

And by union what we will can be accomplished still

Drops of water turn a mill, singly none, singly none.”

When the pressure comes to get Build Back Better through the Senate, she told participants later in the program, “We want them to hold the line on the aspects of the bill that reflect the needs and concerns of the people most impacted by systemic poverty, racism and ecological devastation – they have to hold the line!”

In a closing prayer, the Rev. Millie Phillips told the gathering, “In the Poor People’s Campaign, we are people of many faiths, and people of no religious faith,” all of whom share a faith in the solidarity of people working together to achieve results that will benefit everyone, and especially those with the lowest income, who struggle to put food on the table and to find a decent job with healthcare benefits.

“Let us all be grateful for the work we do together. We stand together with faith that we can achieve this result.”


Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes for People’s World from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986 and currently participates as a volunteer. Marilyn Bechtel escribe para People's World desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Se unió al personal de PW en 1986 y actualmente participa como voluntaria.