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Historic Wave of Non-Violent Civil Disobedience to Hit Statehouses, U.S. Capitol


Washington, DC – Tens of thousands of poor and disenfranchised people, clergy and moral leaders will engage in direct action at statehouses and the U.S. Capitol next spring – a six-week protest highlighted by one of the largest waves of civil disobedience in U.S. history— as part of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, organizers announced Monday (Dec. 4, 2017), 50 years to the day after Dr. Martin Luther King and others called for the original Poor People’s Campaign.


Challenging the enmeshed evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and America’s distorted national morality, organizers said Monday they will draw on the unfinished work of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, reigniting the effort led by civil rights organizations, labor, tenant unions, farm workers, Native American elders and grassroots organizers to foster a moral revolution of values.

Rev. Liz Theoharis

The campaign, which launched Monday morning at a press conference on Capitol Hill, will unite the poor, disenfranchised, and marginalized, combining direct action with grassroots organizing, voter registration, power building and nonviolent civil disobedience.

Expected to be a multi-year effort, The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival will intensify starting Mother’s Day with six weeks of direct action and civil disobedience across at least 25 states and the District of Columbia, leading up to a mass mobilization at the U.S. Capitol June 21. Each week will focus on a different injustice, beginning with child poverty, and will include specific policy goals and a voter education program to advance a moral agenda at the state and federal levels.

“Even before the election of Donald Trump, the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the country’s distorted national morality were tearing apart the social fabric in America,” said the Rev. Liz Theoharis, the campaign’s co-chair. “But with extremists who stand against voting rights, living wages, health care and immigration reform gaining even more influence today in Washington and in statehouses across the country, the need for this campaign is more urgent than ever.” 

Rev. Dr. Barber

The Rev. William Barber II, campaign co-chair, added: “We must transform the moral narrative in this country. We went through the most expensive presidential campaign in U.S. history in 2016 without a single serious discussion of poverty and systemic racism. Now we are witnessing an emboldened attack on the poor and an exacerbation of systemic racism that demands a response. This is not about saving any one party or policy agenda, but about saving the soul of America.”

The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is co-organized by Repairers of the Breach, a soci

al justice organization founded by the Rev. Barber; the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary; and scores of local and national grassroots groups across the country.

Coalitions have formed in more than 30 states to challenge extremism locally and at the federal level and to demand a moral agenda for the common good. From the Bronx to the Texas border and from Appalachia to Alabama, coalition members will hold voter education workshops and train grassroots leaders and activists in direct action, nonviolent civil disobedience and movement building in 2018.

Campaign leaders also announced Monday they will release a report next year auditing the past 50 years of systemic racism, poverty, militarism and ecological devastation in America. The report, conducted by the Institute for Policy Studies, will be based on extensive interviews and testimony from experts and poor and marginalized people from communities across the country.

The study is modeled after the landmark 1968 Kerner Commission report that documented how systemic racism in housing and urban development policies contributed to the riots in Los Angeles, Chicago, Newark, Detroit and other cities earlier that decade.

A preliminary analysis released Wednesday outlines how the conditions that motivated the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign have worsened over the past 50 years, making the need for a new moral movement more urgent than ever. The preliminary report details the acceleration of economic inequality; the emergence of new policies like voter suppression laws and mass incarceration that further entrench systemic racism in America; the growing imbalance in federal discretionary spending on the military relative to social programs; and the intensification of racial and income disparities in access to clean air and water and exposure to environmental hazards.

“The data reveal just how deeply entwined are the problems of racism, poverty, militarism and ecological devastation,” said Sarah Anderson, editor of the preliminary IPS report. “To combat any one of these problems, we need to break down issue silos and unite Americans behind a broad agenda for transformative change.”

Despite real political wins in 1968 and beyond, the original Poor People’s Campaign was tragically cut short, both by Dr. King’s assassination and by the subversion of the coalition that sustained it. Still, the original vision and many of its followers did not go away. The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is the product of a decade of organizing by grassroots groups, religious leaders and others to end systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation. The campaign names so-called Christian nationalism as a threat to a shared moral agenda and focuses on the Southern and Midwestern states that have been exploited by the alliance of the Southern Strategy and the Religious Right. Its architects aim to build a broad and deep national moral movement – rooted in the leadership of poor people and reflecting the great moral teachings – to unite our country from the bottom up. And its participants will be of every of every race, sex, creed, sexuality and party.

“Fifty years ago, Dr. King invited me to help bring three school buses full of black and white people across the crooked roads of Appalachia to Washington, D.C.,” said civil rights attorney Al McSurely, who is a member of the national steering committee for the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. “This time, we have the benefit of years of experience in moral fusion organizing, thousands of better lawyers, Dr. King’s legacy and the prophetic, bulldog leadership of Drs. Liz Theoharis and William J. Barber II.”

The campaign launch will conclude Monday evening with a mass meeting and movement song gathering at the Howard Theater, organized by Gina Belafonte, leader of the social justice organization Sankofa and daughter of Harry Belafonte. The event will feature performances from artists including Sweet Honey in the Rock, Aloe Blacc, Yara Allen and Maxwell. The entire show will be streamed live on Ben & Jerry’s Facebook and YouTube pages.  As it unfolds, the movement will draw on art, music and religious traditions to challenge the dominant narrative that blames poor people for poverty.

Starting last summer, the Revs. Theoharis and Barber held regional training meetings and mass services with community and religious leaders across 15 states to lay the groundwork for the launch of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. The tour has drawn thousands of supporters to meetings stretching from the border wall outside El Paso, Texas, to Stone Temple Baptist Church in Chicago, Ill., to a Native American longhouse in Seattle, Wash., and beyond.

“We are ready to do whatever it takes to fight the racism, xenophobia and criminalization against our communities emanating from the White House and taking hold in states across the country,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso, Texas, and southern New Mexico, a local partner from the US/Mexico border and a member the Executive Committee of the of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. “The border wall and the persecution of immigrants may be the epicenter of militarism, racism and poverty in America today, but we will confront these forces with a moral movement of the poor, led by the poor, that is rooted in unity over division.”

Rev. Carolyn Foster, faith in community coordinator at Greater Birmingham Ministries in Birmingham, Ala., and a local partner in the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, added: “Having worked for over 35 years with people who struggle by living in poverty, I am deeply aware of the systematic and systemic policies that hold them hostage to poverty, such as lack of affordable health care, a decent living wage, homelessness and institutional racism. It is immoral and shameful that in the richest nation in the world, we would have people, especially children, who suffer, are neglected and are blamed for their circumstances. Instead our so-called public servants, who were elected to serve all people, should be held accountable for negligence, inattention and abandonment of these vulnerable people. The Poor People’s Campaign will raise up the plight, dignity and worth of millions of Americans living the poverty and call for direct action to be taken to make transformational changes that align with the values we hold dear in this country.”


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Phyllis Coley
Phyllis D. Coley is CEO/Publisher of Spectacular Magazine and Host of Spectacular Magazine Radio Show. With a B.A. in English from NCCU, the Durham native began her professional career as Promotions/Marketing Director for New York City’s WKTU-FM. While at the radio station, Coley discovered the rap group Kid ‘n Play and managed them for five years, guiding their music and movie careers to success. Moving back to Durham, Coley produced a nationally syndicated television show, The Electric Factory, while working as News Director for FOXY 107/104. In April 2002, recognizing a void in highlighting the achievements of African Americans, she started her own business publishing ACE Magazine. Coley launched Spectacular Magazine in November 2004. Recognizing the lack of pertinent and truthful information, Coley began Spectacular Magazine Radio Show in March 2009. Coley is the organizer of Durham's Annual MLK/Black History Month Parade and the Annual North Carolina Juneteenth Celebration. She currently serves on Central Children’s Home Board of Directors, Raleigh Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Advisors, as Immediate Past Secretary of the Durham Rotary Club Board of Directors and is one of the founding members of the Triangle United Way’s African American Leadership Initiative.

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