Aiming to continue the work that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was doing when he was assassinated 50 years ago, a new Poor People's Campaign officially launched on Monday with advocates for economic justice rallying in Washington, D.C. and more than 30 state capitols nationwide.
The campaign, with an emphasis on voter mobilization and civil disobedience, will include 40 days of demonstrations culminating in a massive protest on June 23 in Washington, D.C. The movement calls for wage laws that are "commensurate for the 21st century economy," a repeal to the tax plan the Republican Party pushed through Congress last year, universal healthcare, and the expansion of public housing as well as guaranteed "fair and decent housing."
Led by the Rev. William Barber, organizer of North Carolina's Moral Mondays protests, the Poor People's Campaign will focus on weekly themes under the larger issue of poverty and economic inequality, including women and children in poverty, voting rights, healthcare, and housing.
"We cannot continue to have a democracy that engages in the kind of policy violence that we see happening every day," Barber told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! on Monday. "All over this country we continue to see what is not often seen or talked about in our politics, in our political debates, or even in the media...250,000 people are dying every year from poverty and low wealth."
King's Poor People's Campaign aimed to petition the government to pass an Economic Bill of Rights, guaranteeing Americans an annual wage and full employment, allocating $30 billion to combat poverty, and establishment of low-cost housing for the poor.
Today, Barber and the Institute for Policy Studies estimate that 140 million Americans are living in poverty—about 100 million more than the census estimates.
The new Poor People's Campaign demands far-reaching policy changes that aim to alleviate the economic burdens placed on poverty-stricken Americans.
The movement follows a widespread national focus on the labor movement, as teachers across the country have staged walkouts to protest chronically low wages and underfunded schools, and Sen. Bernie Sanders's introduction of a bill to strengthen the nation's unions.
On Democracy Now!, Barber stressed that the prevalence of poverty in the U.S.—one of the world's wealthiest countries—and the abandonment of American workers indicates a profound moral failing of the government.
"It is time for a moral confrontation, a non-violent moral confrontation," Barber said. "It is immoral to have 37 million people without healthcare, it is immoral not to pay living wages when we know we can do it...Our first goal is to break through the moral narrative to where we're talking about it. We're not even talking about these issues in the country."
The 40 days of protests will be the launch of a "multi-year campaign," Barber added.
On social media, participants in cities across the country shared images and videos of the Poor People's Campaign's launch.