A not-so funny thing happening on the way to the annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday—the St. Louis planning committee distanced itself from the Poor People’s Campaign. If one ever needed to wonder why Dr. King’s legacy is such a challenge to carry on, this must constitute one of the many reasons why.
St. Louis boasts of having one of the biggest and oldest marches in the country. We begin the recognition of the holiday long before it became an official federal holiday. The clash between members of the MLK planning committee and the Poor People’s Campaign at the annual ceremony is an unfortunate contradiction in this proud history.
There was no space permitted for a PPC rep to speak and when the group unfurled banners from the second floor balcony of the Old Courthouse, attempts were made to snatch them down by an event organizer. The incident was wrong on so many levels, starting that it happened in the hallowed courthouse where the infamous Dred Scott decision took place and where enslaved Africans were sold. Did organizers forget the connection between Dr. King and the Poor People’s Campaign? Have we become so proprietary of the holiday, so disconnected from Dr. King’s vision that we have lost sight of the reasons for celebration?
The progress of Black, Brown and poor people has been sporadic since 1968. The Trump administration in its quest to Make America Great Again is trying to take us back 50 years. It’s appropriate that the concept of the Poor People’s Campaign be resurrected.
This year will mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination. The progress of Black, Brown and poor people has been sporadic since 1968. The trump administration in its quest to Make America Great Again is trying to take us back 50 years. It’s appropriate that the concept of the Poor People’s Campaign be resurrected.
The contemporary campaign is being led by Reverends William Barber and Liz Theoharis in the spirit of the visionary initiative launched by Dr. King and a legion of others in 1967. It was Dr. King’s hope that the evil of poverty would be exposed to the nation and the shame would propel policy and law makers into action. He believed poverty to be the next civil rights front.
At the time that Dr. King was murdered, there were over 25 million poor people in the U.S. Those numbers have doubled and sadly include nearly 15 million children. The wealth gap between the One Percenters and the rest of us is the highest ever. Add racial inequities to the wealth divide and we see an ever-widening gulf that Dr. King could probably never imagined. The recent tax cuts for the rich and greedy only dug the hole deeper for many Americans.
The Poor People’s Campaign will rightfully focus on the evils of poverty, racism, militarism and environmental destruction. Their inter-connectedness is inescapable for large swaths of the U.S. population. The Campaign intends to engage people in at least half of the states in the country in 40 days of civil disobedience starting on Mother’s Day and leading to a national protest in the nation’s capitol in June.
It is not clear to me how these acts will automatically lead to transformative policies and laws. We should draw some lessons from the Moral Mondays, also led by Rev. Barber, so that we break stride from mobilizations that may be inspiring but don’t led to meaningful change.
I encourage organizations and places of faith already in the trenches to weave the resistance into a long-term strategy that helps the masses of people to build the power needed to transform their own lives as well as this country. We can’t stay fixated on the symbolic celebrations of Dr. King life or it will take another 50 years to reach his vision of a “radical redistribution of economic and political power.”