The Poor People's Campaign: A National Call to Moral Revival
By: Rev. Joel Simpson, Pastor, First UMC, Taylorsville
The Poor People’s Campaign by Rev. Joel Simpson
It’s 3:15am as I’m climbing onto the bus. I squeeze by seats filled with high school students, young couples, and older adults. I make my way to the back, sit down, and settle in for a long ride. When I wake up, the sun is up and the person next to me starts talking.
“My fiancé has cancer and we can’t afford the surgery. I don’t have insurance even though we both work full time. I can barely afford a place to live, with roommates!”
James’ voice starts to shake as he finishes talking.
“I’m only 18. Life shouldn’t be like this. Things need to be different. That’s why I’m here!”
We’re one of 500 buses headed to Washington, D.C. from all over the country to join the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call to Moral Revival.
The story James shared with me that morning is not unique. It’s the norm.
There are 140 million poor and low-income people in the U.S. (over 42% of the country and over 52% of our children). Before COVID, 700 people a day died from poverty.
Things shouldn’t be this way.
Thousands of people came from all around the country to join the movement.
This movement isn’t democrat or republican. It is a fusion coalition.
People from all cultures, races, religions, political persuasion coming together to say poverty is killing us.
We live in the richest country in the history of the world. Abundance is not the problem.
The Poor People’s Campaign is the continuation of the work of MLK and other civil rights leaders from over 50 years ago. Bernice King, MLK’s daughter, spoke to the crowd that day with some powerful words: Bernice King Speech
The Poor People’s Campaign believes those who are most directly affected by the wrongs should be lifted up and leading the charge as the moral leaders of our age.
That’s exactly what happened.
As we gathered in front of the Capital in D.C, we listened to poor people from almost every state share the injustices and struggles they have been experiencing.
A father who had all three of his children commit suicide. It started with his daughter who was denied help because she had gotten seen too many times and their insurance would no longer allow her to get help.
A woman who worked 2-3 jobs her entire life just to barely provide for her kids…and she spent virtually zero time with her children because of it.
A father who can’t get a job that will pay him enough to support his family. He’s on SNAP benefits (same as WIC/Food Stamps) to make ends meet. He is preparing to have a second child when he finds out baby formula has been taken out of the SNAP program. He won’t be able to buy formula to feed his newborn daughter.
A veteran from Kansas who was discharged from the military because of a disability she received while in the military. They didn’t note it as a disability discharge. She didn’t receive any support. She ended up homeless, along with 1000s of other vets in Kansas because of the lack of government care.
Community leaders from St. James, Louisiana, that is part of an 80-mile stretch of land called “Cancer Alley.” This area is literally deemed as a “sacrifice zone.” 150 chemical companies are on this stretch of land. They moved in and bought up all the white neighborhoods, but wouldn’t by the property of the black neighborhoods. This left 45,000 people trapped, unable to sell their homes, and being poisoned every day with polluted water and air. DuPont chemical is literally located 1500 feet away from an elementary school. The government allowed these chemical companies to move into these locations and has allowed these families and communities to continue to suffer and die, for these companies.
A woman who served 38 years in prison instead of her required 30, because they lost her files. Her mother, father, and daughter died all during those 8 extra years she was locked up.
A 17-year-old from OK who struggles to pay rent because she can’t find a job that pays enough for her to live on. She grew up in poverty and is still in poverty. She said, “I don’t want handouts. I want a fair and equal shot.”
These stories go on and on. We know these stories because they’re our stories. They are the stories of people in our churches and in our communities.
140 million people. 42% of the country. 52% of children.
These stories are the norm. But they shouldn’t be.
Everybody’s got a right to live.
In the richest country in the history of the world, there should be no poverty. Everyone should have healthcare. Nobody should be forced to live in “sacrifice zones.”
Even now, when gas is high and inflation is happening, we could turn this all around.
Our country is suffering from a misappropriation of resources and an absence of values
52 cents of every federal dollar goes to the pentagon. It goes to war.
The war in Afghanistan and Iraq cost us 6 trillion dollars, while our country struggles in poverty.
There are solutions. The Poor People’s Campaign has a list of them.
How we currently spend our resources is a distortion of our Christian values.
We are commanded to care for the least of these.
Though “the least of these” is quickly turning into “the most of these,” as Bernice King said.
Poverty affects us all.
Poverty harms us all.
We must be for life.
We must be for each other.
We must love as Jesus loved.
Somebody is hurting our people, and we can’t be silent anymore.
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