Rev. Barber, Rev. Theoharis see the fall of the GOP Southern Strategy
Rev. William Barber II and Rev. Liz Theoharis (center of photo) said the basic goal of eradication of poverty in the U.S. is still at the top of the New Poor People’s Campaign list.

The campaign for the 2020 election may be over, but the New Poor People’s Campaign isn’t stopping. It’s just re-charting how to achieve its goals, its co-chairs say.

In an NPPC post-election review, posted on Nov. 6 on its YouTube channel and its website, www.poorpeoplescampaign.org, the Revs. William Barber II and Liz Theoharis said the basic goal of eradication of poverty in the U.S. is still at the top of the drive’s list.

Along with it come elimination of “the U.S. war machine” and shift of money spent on it to domestic needs, such as decent housing and better education, raising the minimum wage, providing universal health care, restoring and strengthening voting rights for all, and ensuring every worker has the right to unionize.

Those are the goals the campaign has had since its inception. What’s different is NPPC members contacted 2.3 million people, virtually all of them poor or near poor, to become voters this year. Both Barber and Theoharis said the results were masses of new poor Black, brown and white voters turning out, especially in swing states.

But there’s a new celebratory mood, Barber added: “We are seeing the beginning of the fall of the [Republicans’] Southern Strategy,” which has demonized people of color and shaped U.S. politics, in both parties, for the last 52 years, he declared.

That’s because former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee who has won the White House, loudly and explicitly refuted the racism, sexism, and hate fomented by his foe, Republican Oval Office incumbent Donald Trump.

And Biden won the popular vote with an all-time record number of ballots, setting the stage, Barber said “for a third Reconstruction,” referring to the original post-Civil War era when newly freed Blacks significantly advanced politically, before the North pulled troops out of the unreconstructed white South for good, in 1877. The civil rights era was the second Reconstruction, he explains.

Trump and his GOP followers relied on what Barber called “a mirage” that they and their racist followers are in the majority in the U.S. But he also noted Trump’s actions against people of color and his terrible response to the coronavirus pandemic “has revealed the fissures in American life,” especially poverty.

“Poverty has made the pandemic worse and racism has made the pandemic worse,” Barber declared, citing high proportions of Black, brown, and white poor who have fallen ill or died from the virus, officially called COVID-19. “It fueled a public health crisis in this country.”

The good news, Barber said, is “more than 72 million people”—the number, so far, counted for Biden—“have voted to repudiate extremism, Trumpism and the combination of extremism and Trumpism.” And millions of those were poor who voted, sometimes for the first time, at the NPPC’s urging and lobbying.

“We are called to be a movement,” Barber declared. The next event will be a caravan on Washington on Nov. 16 to push Congress to approve a new stimulus package for people sent into joblessness and poverty by the coronavirus pandemic.

Both Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., have attended NPPC events and endorsed its goals. “They dared to run on $15 and a union. What if they dared to address poverty?” he asked.

Still the NPPC and the 140 million pre-pandemic poor and near-poor it cites and speaks for have a problem: The 68-million-plus Trump voters. But even among those, there are issues both NPPC and the Trumpites agree on, Barber said.

They include raising the minimum wage, which opinion polls now show even 62% of Republicans support, and “access to universal health care,” which draws 63% approval.

“But if we address poverty, systemic racism, war, exploitation and criminal justice reform” by creating “a fusion coalition” of individuals and organizations stretching across races, “we can overcome” the U.S.’s longstanding division between races and classes, he declared.

Barber did not give many specifics about the next phase of the New Poor People’s Campaign, or how the group plans to create that fusion coalition, other than the caravan. But Theoharis, as she has before, concentrated on one big key to empowering the poor: Restoring and strengthening voting rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s five-man GOP-named majority gutted the law’s key enforcement section in 2013, and GOP-run states rushed to disenfranchise Blacks, Latinx people, Native Americans, workers, women, and students—all groups the ruling Republicans knew actively oppose their hegemonic corporate agenda.

So restoring and enhancing the law is a key goal of the NPPC, because voting empowers people to affect politics. It was also part of HR1, the comprehensive pro-democracy package—including campaign finance reform—the Democratic-run House approved early in 2019.

When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., refused to even allow debate on HR1, the House passed a stand-alone Voting Rights Act rewrite and named it for the late civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. McConnell killed that, too.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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