A group of clergy and civil rights activists converged Monday at the U.S. Capitol to announce the revival of movement to fight poverty initiated by Martin Luther King 50 years ago.
On Monday morning, religious leaders and volunteers for the Poor People’s Campaign delivered to elected leaders in 30 states and the District letters demanding action on poverty. In Washington, about 50 activists marched to the Capitol to deliver the letters to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, neither of whom received the letters.
“We can stand up for justice together. We can fight to make this country great for everyone, absolutely everyone,” said the campaign’s co-chair, the Rev. Liz Theoharis, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Wearing a stole that read “Jesus was a poor man,” Ms. Theoharis spoke about the unfinished economic advocacy of King, whose 1968 assassination ended the Poor People’s Campaign before it could actually begin.
“He insisted, what good is it to be able to sit at a lunch counter, if you can’t buy a hamburger?” she said, echoing King.
After being rebuffed by the congressional leaders, the activists prayed and protested in the Capitol Rotunda, chanting “Together forward, not one step back.” Capitol Police ushered the group out after two warnings of disturbing the peace.
Elisendo Morales Cardoso, a member of the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, participated in Monday’s campaign. He said he immigrated to the U.S. when he was 13 and is in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which is being addressed in Congress. He also spoke about his work in a downtown office building.
“The building I clean is between the Capitol and the White House, so I see Trump hats on shelves,” said Mr. Cardoso, 32, a father of two. “I don’t know how people can leave them there, knowing immigrants clean their offices every day.”
Several members of the District’s clergy marched Monday, including the Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler of the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Northeast.
“We will never be truly be America, and we will never be great until and unless we concern ourselves with the last of these: the poor, the immigrant, the Dreamers, and those threatened by TPS, he homeless, the jobless, the working poor, and those needing and seeking truly affordable housing,” Mr. Hagler said, referring to Temporary Protected Status, an immigration status the Trump administration announced will be revoked for Salvadorans on Sept. 9.
According to its website, the Poor People’s Campaign’s national to-do list includes helping “those most affected by systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and ecological devastation and to [build] unity across lines of division.”
Asked what the D.C. chapter plans to protest, Mr. Hagler said: “Obviously, we got the issues that are important here like affordable housing and dealing with the water issue, we’ve already had meetings about that, in terms of the types of ways people in the community have been shackled with high water fees.”
The campaign plans to stage a 30-day protest in the District, starting May 13. Details were scant, but one protester — a minister with the United Church of Christ — said he expects sit-ins and arrests.
“I plan on being involved and if arrest is necessary I’ll be prepared,” said the Rev. Jason Carson Wilson, 41, who grew up in Champaign, Illinois, before moving to the District three years ago.
“I grew up on Medicaid and welfare and without that I wouldn’t survive childhood,” Mr. Wilson said. “I can tell you from personal experience the value of those kinds of programs, the importance of safety net programs.”
In 2016, U.S. Census Bureau listed about 17.5 million whites and 8.7 million blacks as living in poverty, The Associated Press reported. Proportionately, that means 22 percent of black Americans were living in poverty versus 9 percent of whites. Overall more than 1-in-10 Americans were living in poverty in 2016.