New Orleans Thinking about the new year on the first, fresh day of 2018, let’s make a note to pay close attention to the development of the New Poor Peoples’ Campaign on the 50th anniversary of the old Poor Peoples’ Campaign.
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the first Poor Peoples’ Campaign in March 1968 in one of his last efforts before his assassination in Memphis, which will also mark its tragic 50th anniversary in 2018. This time around the Rev. William Barber, well-known for his Moral Monday crusades in North Carolina as head of the NAACP in that state, is one of the co-chairs of this effort. In the same vein, the 2018 edition is also being touted as a moral crusade with a significant religious and church-based appeal.
The details are starting to emerge on the planning. In a nutshell, the campaign plans to kickoff on Mother’s Day in the spring in forty or more cities hoping to mobilize tens of thousands in weekly protests around different themes critical to supporting the advancement of lower income families and culminating in a June march on Washington. Targeting states and cities is a smart adaptation of the first, more DC-centered campaign and its difficult logistics and politics 50 years ago. Much of the impetus behind the new campaign is coming from religious denominations and though grassroots organizations are noted none of them are mentioned on the campaign’s website or in most of the articles thus far.
Tactically, the new campaign is putting civil disobedience at the center of its recruitment. The early website is largely a placeholder, but is clear in asking for supporters whether they are willing to engage in civil disobedience. The campaign is signaling that it is not going to play the numbers-game, but wants to make its mark with the quiet rectitude of arrests.
Will it work? Will people care? Who knows, but besides the strength of the campaigns historical connection and its ability to link current struggles to the old civil rights movement and some of its veterans, including King, the timing may end up important for other reasons. House Speaker Ryan is widely telegraphing his interest in going after entitlements, and that’s a euphemism for targeting the poor, elderly, disabled and powerless. Senate Majority Leader McConnell has said that he doesn’t want to go there in an election year for fear of fueling the resistance with even more fire, but he has also contradicted himself several times. All of which should make them targets and could synchronize with the timing of the campaign making whatever pressure the effort could mobilize critical in withstanding even more draconian cuts to social service programs and the families that benefit.
It’s worth staying tuned and being ready to respond as the details of this version of the Poor Peoples’ Campaign become clearer. Regardless, anything that focuses on the plight of lower income families in America today is a good thing, so these efforts need to be met with good will and encouragement in the new year.