This post was written and reported by contributor Dawn R. Wolfe through our new Daily Kos freelance program.
In late June, I stood with more than 50 Michiganders and several thousand other activists in a rally and march in Washington, D.C., to announce the reincarnation of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's last life's work: the Poor People's Campaign. The event was the culmination of 40 days of direct action, including six weekly protests by Poor People's Campaign organizers in 40 states.
Uniting more than 100 different groups (at least 11 in Michigan alone) to organize and take part in six weekly protests is by itself a huge achievement. But for the Poor People's Campaign, that 40 days was just the beginning.
While national organizers with the Poor People's Campaign started meeting and organizing two years before kicking off the initial 40 Days of Action, the Michigan arm put its efforts together in just nine months. During that time, Michigan PPC activists trained more than 500 people in the art of nonviolent civil disobedience (or, as they call it, “Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action”), assembled a coalition of at least 11 disparate organizations, and fielded an average of 500 people during each of its six Monday afternoon protests—five in Lansing, and one in Detroit.
The 2018 iteration of the Poor People's Campaign is a direct descendant of the first PPC movement, which was started in 1967 by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The first—and last—wide-scale action taken by the 1967 Poor People's Campaign was a month-long protest on the National Mall in the summer of 1968, which eventually grew to more than 7,000 participants.
Today's campaign is co-chaired by the Rev. Dr. William Barber, one of the original organizers of the Moral Monday campaigns in North Carolina, and the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, a metro Detroit-area native, director of the Kairos Center, and founder and coordinator of the Poverty Initiative. In Michigan, roughly fifty individuals are part of the state's organizing committee, which is primarily organized in six of the state's 83 counties.
What's next for the Poor People's Campaign?
After taking a break to rest and reflect, both the Michigan and national organizations have once again hit the ground running. In Michigan, roughly 100 people who were arrested while taking part in civil disobedience actions are meeting to decide whether they want to insist on having an additional forum by going to trial.
Meanwhile, more than 200 Michigan faith leaders from around the state have signed the PPC's statement declaring access to water a human right and agreeing to take part in actions, including a press conference, to lobby for affordable water rates across Michigan. PPC organizers are continuing to support the People's Water Board in Detroit, which demonstrates every Friday against the water shutoffs in that city.
On July 24, national PPC co-chair the Rev. Dr. William Barber joined with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other moral leaders in a live webcast opposing the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.
On the weekend of Aug. 25-27, the Michigan Poor People's Campaign will take part in a national weekend of canvassing being organized by the national campaign, and in September, Michigan PPC leaders will join their counterparts from across the country in a day of training, reflection, and preparation for their next steps.
While these things are happening, tri-committee member Carlos Santacruz said the Michigan movement will go into what he called “Phase 2.”
“We did something really amazing for 40 days, and organized it in less than a year. It happened so fast,” he explained. “We didn't really have time to build our base and reach out to folks intentionally, but people were coming from different areas regardless. Phase 2 is going to be more about intentional base building, reaching out to rural areas and impacted people being subjected to the ills of racism, the war economy, and ecological devastation.”
First, Santacruz said, Michigan Poor People’s Campaign organizers will “talk about what these individuals (rural Michiganders) want to talk about,” including issues like the difficult economy, cuts to Medicaid, and the lack of affordable housing. Then, he explained, “... we can potentially start talking about the issues of race” that have been used to keep poor people from uniting in their common best interests.
According to Santacruz, getting the Michigan PPC's separate member groups to collaborate was, “a messy process,” because “for a really long time organizations have been fighting and struggling on a scarcity mentality.”
“The way we've been organizing and engaging has been a losing strategy because we were only fighting for a slice of the pie, without saying we deserve the whole pie,” he added.
But after collaborating in six weeks' worth of actions, Santacruz says that the success they've achieved has energized everyone and kept them together. “We saw what we can accomplish,” he said, and cited two examples: having enough people on hand to wrap the entire building housing the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in yellow “caution” tape, and members of Moratorium Now finally being granted a meeting with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority on June 11, while the Michigan PPC demonstrated on the agency's doorstep.
According to Moratorium Now! organizer Jerry Goldman, the Poor People's Campaign is, “just what's needed. We need to bring all the organizations that fight for the rights of poor and working people together.”
Dawn Wolfe is a freelance writer and journalist based in Ann Arbor, Mich. If you ‘d like to help support more stories like this through our freelance program, contribute here.