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Poor People's Campaign calls on voters to end "death by poverty"

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With the goals of demanding living wages, voting rights, and health care and fighting systemic poverty and racism, the Texas Poor People’s Campaign is looking to rally voters to demand change.

Over the weekend The Poor People’s Campaign, gathered in Austin and other statehouses across the country and called for an end to “death by poverty.”

The event launched a 40-week effort to mobilize lower-income voters in Texas for the upcoming elections and to also demand that legislators take action to work to end poverty in the United States.

The Poor People's Campaign, launched in 1968 by Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), marked a pivotal moment in the fight for economic justice in the United States. While primarily known for its historic march on Washington D.C., the campaign's legacy extends far beyond that single event, resonating deeply in both its historical context and continued relevance today.

Motivated by the persistent issue of poverty even after landmark civil rights legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, King envisioned the campaign as a multiracial, multi-pronged approach. It aimed to address systemic economic inequalities through nonviolent demonstrations, lobbying efforts, and the establishment of "Resurrection City," a symbolic encampment built on the National Mall to highlight the plight of the poor.

Though tragically cut short by King's assassination in April 1968, the campaign continued under the leadership of Ralph Abernathy. Despite facing significant challenges, including government resistance and internal disagreements, Resurrection City stood for 6 weeks, hosting workshops, holding rallies, and drawing national attention to the economic disparities plaguing the nation.

While the campaign did not achieve all its initial goals, such as securing a guaranteed minimum income, it did hold some notable successes. It pressured the government to increase funding for poverty programs and pushed for the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Moreover, the campaign's multiracial approach challenged the racialized narrative of poverty and helped broaden the conversation on economic justice in the United States.

The Poor People's Campaign's relevance persists today due to the enduring struggle against poverty and economic inequality. While the campaign's specific historical context has changed, the core issues of systemic barriers, inadequate social safety nets, and the disproportionate impact of poverty on marginalized communities remain relevant.

In 2018, the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, led by Rev. William Barber II and Rev. Liz Theoharris, emerged as a continuation of King's legacy. This iteration of the campaign focuses on issues like voter suppression, systemic racism, mass incarceration, and the exploitation of low-wage workers. It utilizes similar tactics of nonviolent protest, economic civil disobedience, and moral witness to address these contemporary challenges.

The continued existence of the Poor People's Campaign serves as a reminder of the ongoing fight for economic justice in the United States. By highlighting the persistent realities of poverty and advocating for systemic change, the campaign's legacy serves as a source of inspiration and a call to action for those who seek to build a more equitable and just society.


Alex Montalvo and Denita Jones are tri-chairs of the Texas Poor People’s Campaign.

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call833-877-8255, email thesource@tpr.org.

*This interview will be recorded on Monday, March 4, 2024.

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi