The Poor People’s Campaign: Demanding Change With One Powerful Voice

My name is Tammy and I live in poverty. My co-author, Wanda, also lives in poverty. Every day we struggle to make ends meet and often have to make hard choices.

Wanda lives in York City where 44% of the people live under the poverty line. I live in a rural area of Lancaster County, where increases in poverty have led to the Coalition to Combat Poverty.

In addition to our own experiences, every day we witness others struggles with poverty. I have a friend living out of a car. Wanda has a 62-year-old friend struggling to feed herself on 15 dollars a month in food stamps. We are both tired and saddened by the suffering we see daily in our communities.

That’s why we joined the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

On Monday, February 5th we went to the statehouse in Harrisburg, along with hundreds of people struggling like us in over 30 states across the country. We are putting lawmakers on notice. People are demanding action on issues like systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and destruction of the environment.

And, this is just the beginning. We’re also pledging to take part in six weeks of nonviolent civil disobedience this spring because we’re ready to do whatever it takes to make sure elected leaders in Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. put the needs of poor people first.

It has been 50 years since the original Poor People’s Campaign began.  You would think that in that time, things would have changed for the better. But in reality, the problems that motivated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others to launch the original Poor People’s Campaign have only gotten worse.

Today the gap between the rich and the rest of us has grown larger. Extremist politicians are attacking voting rights all across the country. Spending on prisons and the military is skyrocketing, but politicians keep trying to cut funding for basic programs that poor families need to survive. Too many communities across the country lack access to clean air and water.

In Pennsylvania, there has been extreme resistance to raising the minimum wage, currently at $7.25 an hour. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the poorest people in our state pay 12% of their income in taxes, while the richest 1% pay only 4.2% of their income in taxes. Since a comprehensive adult dental benefit was cut from Medicaid in 2011, adults with serious dental problems are more likely to be given opioids for pain management in the ER than have a good dentist repair their teeth. Our state prisons function as a network of warehouses for the poor who are disproportionately people of color. Many are sitting on top of toxic waste, poisoning people who cannot escape as well as the surrounding communities who are too poor to move.

We can’t wait in silence hoping these problems will solve themselves. We need to act now.  What we need today is a movement of people from all backgrounds who are willing to stand up, speak out and even risk arrest until those in power hear us and that’s what we see in the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

Of course, thinking about risking arrest is scary. But you know what’s scarier? Politicians who only represent the wealthy and try to silence the people’s voice, older adults who are forced into for-profit nursing homes rather than receiving in-home care, and immigrants working for slave wages and exploited by their employers. We can’t afford to let things stay the same. That’s why we joined the Poor People’s Campaign.

We know we’re not alone either. Politicians often try to divide us, but in this movement we see people from all backgrounds coming together. And starting this spring, we’ll be demanding change with one powerful voice that cannot be ignored.

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