Poor People’s Campaign’s 400,000-strong network to mobilize five million voters
The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II leads a National Poor People's Campaign rally in Raleigh, N.C. El reverendo Dr. William J. Barber II dirige un mitin de la Campaña Nacional de los Pobres en Raleigh, Carolina del Norte.| Travis Long / The News & Observer via AP

WASHINGTON—Seeking to build on success in 2020, the Poor People’s Campaign is undertaking a massive campaign across multiple states not just to register new poor and low-income/low-wealth people to vote, but to ensure those who already are registered actually do vote this year.

And, given some of the states with the highest concentrations of such voters—restrictive red states such as Mississippi and Alabama—it also has laid plans with allied organizations to ensure that when those voters cast their ballots, their votes are counted and obeyed.

The voter turnout campaign has already started, and not just in the South, the Rev. William Barber II, Poor People’s Campaign founder and co-chair, said in an interview with People’s World. Its object: Ensure politicians hear and heed the voices and votes of people who most need help.

Those voters, being listened to for the first time, can provide winning margins through higher turnout in key senatorial, congressional, and gubernatorial races this fall, he says.

“We have more than 400,000 people in our action network already,” Barber explained. Taking off from the old church adage of “each one reach one,” the Poor People’s Campaign is thinking even bigger. “We’re asking them each to reach five poor and low-income voters” who are already registered, but may not have voted in 2020, “and move them to the polls.”

The eventual target is five million more such voters, especially in “purple” and even many “red” states.

“We’ll do massive texting, canvassing, and door-knocking” this fall to convince poor and low-income/low-wealth people to vote, and vote in their own interests, Barber explained.

The motivation? Barber says the Poor People’s Campaign’s own data and analysis show those registered voters didn’t vote in past years because “they felt nobody was listening to them. We’re saying ‘Make them hear you.’”

“In North Carolina,” his home state, “49% of the people are poor or low-wage,” he elaborated. Some 120,000 who were registered didn’t vote last time “because they felt they weren’t being talked to” on issues they care about.

For the Carolinians and other poor and low-wage people nationwide, those issues include raising the federal minimum wage to at least $15 an hour, building affordable housing, protecting voting rights, battling climate change, enabling worker rights, and providing affordable health care, Barber said.

“In Mississippi, 49% of the people are in low-wage jobs. How do you get paid more? Elect people who will raise” the federal minimum wage, which has been $7.25 hourly there and in 19 other states since 2009. All but three of those “minimum” states are deeply “red,” Republican run. The exceptions: Swing states New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

North Carolina is also a classic “purple” state, with its Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper facing off against a Republican-gerrymandered legislature. Lawmakers there, Barber previously said, approved a restrictive voting rights law, once the U.S. Supreme Court freed them to do so in 2013, “in 45 minutes.”

Off-year elections are traditionally dominated by partisans of both parties. So small turnout can make a big difference. One obvious example in 2020 was in the Georgia presidential election between Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Republican predecessor Donald Trump. Biden won by 11,379 votes out of 4,999,958 cast.

Casting a ballot this time, the Poor People’s campaign’s troops are telling voters, will change that dynamic, Barber said.

This year’s races where poor and low-wealth people could make a difference include both the governorship and an open Senate seat in Pennsylvania. There, Barber joined housing advocates on Sept. 18. Others include Ohio’s U.S. Senate race between Trumpite Republican J.D. Vance and strongly pro-worker Rep. Tim Ryan (D) and Georgia’s gubernatorial rematch between Stacey Abrams (D) and incumbent Republican Brian Kemp.

Kemp narrowly beat Abrams in 2018 after he used his term as Secretary of State to purge hundreds of thousands of Georgian voters, with 80% of them voters of color.

But the effort goes beyond those jurisdictions, Barber said. Just small increases in turnout by poor and low-income/low-wealth voters could have a large impact even in red-leaning states such as Florida, he says.

That’s despite Florida’s restrictive voter law, which American Federation of Teachers Secretary-Treasurer Fedrick Ingram—former president of Education Florida—said in a prior People’s World interview is worse than Georgia’s. And Georgia is the state that now bans giving water to people waiting in line to vote.

The Poor People’s Campaign June 18 Moral March in Washington. | @unitethepoor via Twitter

Even a 4% increase in turnout from poor and low-wage Floridian voters could make a difference, Barber says. The Sunshine State has two important statewide races: Rep. Val Demings (D), a former Orlando police commissioner, against incumbent Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat against mega MAGA Trumpite Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. The Demings-Rubio race is considered a tossup.

But that still leaves one problem: Election protection. Laws such as Georgia’s and Florida’s open the way to voter intimidation by white nationalists and to what Barber calls Jim Crow 2.0, denying voting rights to people of color, as Kemp did in Georgia.

“Because of Congress’ failure to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Restoration Act” and other pro-voting measures, including protecting voters against white supremacists determined to intimidate and deny them their rights, “some 60 million votes are in danger nationwide” this fall, Barber warns.

Barber also faults Senate Democrats for holding only one vote—which lost due to renegade Joe Manchin, D-W. Va.—on the VRAA, and for a one-vote loss on living wages.

Poor People’s Campaign canvassers will bring up those votes, too, this fall. “That’s unacceptable,” Barber said of those results. Denying the right to vote “is a moral emergency,” he adds. So is the refusal to restore the expanded child care tax credit, which helped 20 million kids.

Senatorial failures in the evenly divided chamber leave protecting voting rights in the hands of lawyers on the ground, and the Poor People’s Campaign has turned to them, Barber said. The attorneys will be from the Center for Constitutional Rights, Forward Justice, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, plus others.

“They’ll be doing vote monitoring. If they see something irregular, they’ll immediately challenge it.”

Join in the action with the Poor People’s Campaign in your state.


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.