In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. organized a march on Washington known as the “Campaign of the Poor” for low-income Americans of various backgrounds.
More 50 years later, about 2,000 to 3,000 protesters gathered on Saturday to deliver the same message to the Assembly of the Poor and Low-Wage Workers and the Moral March on Washington and to the polls.
The rally urged low-income voters to participate in the upcoming midterm elections and brought together religious organizations, pro-democracy groups, labor unions and climate activists from across the country.
“As long as there are 140 million poor, low-income people in this country, and we know it doesn’t have to be, we will no longer be silent,” said Reverend William Barber, Co-Chair. of the countryside of the poor.
Protesters rallied for a wide range of issues: ending poverty, voter suppression, systemic racism, environmental damage and limited access to healthcare and education.
The Poor People’s Campaign also demands that supporters call for a third reconstruction — a major federal effort to end poverty and bring about other large-scale change. It follows the first reconstruction after the Civil War and the second reconstruction during the civil rights movement.
Barber also spoke about the disproportionate impacts of the COVID pandemic for low-income people. The Poor People’s Campaign released a study in April that showed Americans in poor counties died at almost twice the rate from those of the wealthier counties.
“We know that before the pandemic the poor were dying at the rate of 700 people a day, or 250,000 a year,” Barber said.
“The poor have been 2-5 times more likely to die from COVID so far during this pandemic, and we know that can’t just be explained by vaccination results; it’s linked to the discrimination in our policy towards poor and poor rich people,” he said.
Demonstrators came from across the United States to protest inequality.
“It’s kind of sickening to me that we came to the capital of the wealthiest country on earth and saw homeless people in tunnels and living on the streets,” said Kevin Queen, 43, who traveled to the rally from Nebraska.
“And so just to be able to be here and participate is an honor as well as something very heartbreaking, because here we are, what, 60 years later, and we’re still marching for the poor – we still don’t have not fixed this problem,” he said.
WAMU’s Ryan Benk contributed reporting.
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