I have been asked how it felt to participate in the Poor People’s Campaign direct action. Many of you know that the Poor People’s Campaign is a reawakening of a campaign that Martin Luther King, Jr, was planning at the time of his assassination. The effort, led by Rev Dr William Barber and Rev Dr Liz Theoharris, seeks to remind our people and our government that many people in our country continue to suffer under poverty, racism, militarism, and environmental devastation. We can only end these oppressive practices through a moral call to action. Rev Barber speaks about a fusion coalition, a group that comes from various racial, religious, and economic backgrounds that unites around belief in the power of love and the need for compassion to fuel our policies, particularly towards people who are poor, but including all who are marginalized by race, sexual orientation, gender, or other status.
The first week of the 40 Days of Action, I led one column of people willing to be arrested from the state capitol onto Topeka Avenue, where the group of about thirty people blocked an intersection. I served as a marshal, helping people know where they should be to either facilitate or avoid arrest, coordinating and watching.
How did it feel? Adrenaline rushed through my body, heightening my awareness. I went in and out of the chants and songs, depending on what was happening and where my attention was needed. There was an odd combination of power–who knew it was so easy to shut down an intersection?–and fear.
The small group blocking the intersection was more white than the crowd of 200 who took part in the rally and stood on the sidelines of the action. People with the most privilege need to be prepared to make more sacrifices for change to come. At the same time, the voices of those who are most affected have to be at the center of events, as they were in the rally and press conference.
Civil disobedience is often used to demand a particular course of action. In this case, though there is a long list of demands (you can review the full list at www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/demands/), the goals are more about organizing a movement and getting the word out about how people are suffering.
About the original Poor People’s Campaign, Dr King said:
I choose to identify with the underprivileged. I choose to identify with the poor. I choose to give my life for the hungry. I choose to give my life for those who have been left out.
Too often in our political climate today, people identify with the rich, embracing a “need” for tax cuts or concern about supporting the business climate. T oo few of us are willing instead to consider how policies and laws affect “the least of these,” those whose needs are greatest and most often go unmet.
I try to make the commitment that Dr King did to those who are poor. If you want to join the campaign, let me know. Events continue into June.
In faith and freedom, Jonalu