Saturday, May 5, 2018

Can a Barber do what a King couldn’t?

The day following Mother’s Day, May 14, is the date set for the launch of the new Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) activities. The original PPC was inaugurated by Martin Luther King Jr, but mainly because of his tragic assassination 601 months ago it didn’t accomplish what he had hoped for. The primary leader of the new PPC is William Barber II. Thus, this article’s title raises a question worth considering.
King’s Poor People’s Campaign
The original Poor People's Campaign was created on December 4, 1967, by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led by MLK, to address the issues of unemployment, housing shortages for the poor, and the impact of poverty on the lives of millions of Americans.
Unlike King’s earlier efforts, the PPC addressed issues that impacted all who were poor and was not just a movement to help African-Americans.
King considered the Memphis Sanitation Strike to be a major part of that original campaign—and he had gone to Memphis in support of the strikers when he was shot and killed on April 4, 1968.
Led by King’s associate Ralph Abernathy, meaningful PPC activities began on Mother’s Day five weeks after King’s death. Unfortunately, few significant changes resulted from those activities.
Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign
William Barber II, who was still four years old when King was killed, is the primary leader of the new PPC, which he is linking to “a national call for moral revival.”
Beginning five years ago when he was the president of the North Carolina NAACP, Barber led the Moral Monday Movement in that state. He is now president of Repairers of the Breach, a social justice organization (see here).
This year on six consecutive Mondays beginning on May 14, the PPC will promote six Moral Monday activities. The first four are designed to combat poverty’s impact on education, systemic racism, militarism, and environmental degradation.
On June 11 the theme is “everybody’s got a right to live in fair housing and earn a living and wage.” Then the final activity on June 18 is about the “fusion movement rising and the strategic solidarity of intersectional struggle.”  
What Would Success Look Like?
Unlike the PPC 50 years ago, the new PPC led by Barber is operating in over 30 of the states and in the nation’s capital. Active participants are being trained to engage in non-violent civil disobedience activities.
According to an April 10 Associated Press article, Barber has said that the 40 days of action will have been successful if, at the end, the campaign has changed the country’s narrative so that the poor are discussed and they’re involved in creating strategies to get people out of poverty—and that includes a lot of people.
The overall U.S. poverty rate was about 13 percent in 2016, and for African-Americans that rate was almost 22 percent.
I am too old (or, more likely, too much of a wimp) to travel to Jefferson City and to be involved in the non-violent civil disobedience activities scheduled for May 14 (which may result in participants being arrested). But at least, I plan to attend the 6 a.m. send-off rally that morning in downtown Kansas City.
Also, I am making a small monthly contribution to help support this new PPC, and perhaps some of you readers are doing the same—or are even directly involved in the PPC activities where you live. I hope so.
I also hope and pray (literally) that Barber and this year’s Poor People’s Campaign will be able to do what King and the 1968 PPC was unable to do.
[For those who might like to read more about the PPCs of 1968 and 2018, I recommend this article, which was in the May issue of Sojourners magazine.]


  1. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky writes,

    "I’m not sure one can measure success in something like this, Leroy. The important thing is that it happen no matter the outcome. A non-violent approach is in itself success."

    1. Thanks for your comments, Dr. Hinson.

      In the Associated Press article I linked to, Dr. Barber also said, "The Democrats talk about the middle class. The Republicans talk about the military. No one’s talking about the poor."

      So even though it may a rather low bar for success, if the new PPC does, in fact, get people to think about and to talk about the plight of the poor, that will be an important outcome of the movement.

  2. I was happy to receive the following thoughtful comments thoughtful Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your information about the new PPC.

    "We really need a sort of 'Marshall Plan' to help the poor in America.

    "Here in Chicago I see five critical needs.

    "First, crime reduction. Chicago is making progress as crime so far in 2018 has been significantly reduced, but still African-Americans are moving out because of crime and drug addiction issues.

    "Second, access to affordable health care is urgently needed from prenatal care on up. More health clinics are needed in impoverished neighborhoods.

    "Third, there needs to be significant investment in neighborhood primary schools so that kids are ready for secondary school. Neighborhood schools help to build and stabilize neighborhoods. (Chicago Public Schools has closed a number of neighborhood schools.)

    "Fourth, home ownership (not rent paid to slum lords) needs to be encouraged and subsidized. This will increase the value of homes and also help to stabilize neighborhoods.

    "And fifth, decent jobs and job training. Currently there are many available jobs, although some do not pay very well and others require special skills not possessed by many of the poor.

    "But with Congress and many state legislatures enamored by tax cuts (primarily for the wealthy), it is hard to see where the funding for these programs will be found. (Why is Congress cutting taxes and running fiscal deficits during a period of prosperity?)"

  3. Leroy,

    Do you get Richard Rohr's daily emails? He writes from a contemplative Franciscan way of life and has a thoughtful piece this morning. Sojourners has published in it's last two magazines both a sermon from Barber and a "Rise Up!" renewal of the PPC.
    Thanks for drawing attention to this!
    peace and love,

    1. Thanks, Drew!

      Yes, I get, and enjoy reading, Fr. Rohr's daily emails--and just yesterday I received the printed copy of "The Mendicant," his quarterly newsletter. This new issue was mostly about the Poor People's Campaign.