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Faith leaders galvanize the Poor People’s Campaign

By Yasmine Regester / May 24, 2018

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), visits Beloved Community Center to discuss the action agenda of the Poor People’s Campaign with Greensboro residents.
Photo by Ivan S. Cutler/ Carolina Peacemaker

On Friday, May 18, national leaders Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), joined Greensboro clergy, civic and community leaders to discuss the objectives of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

Leaders gathered at Beloved Community Center in Greensboro to discuss the first week of the national campaign and preview future actions of the upcoming 40 Days of Moral Action. For the next month and a half, each week will have a theme starting with a focus on children, women and people with disabilities living in poverty.

The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is calling on people across the country to challenge systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.

North Carolina was one of 30 locations nationwide where the Poor People’s Campaign launched six weeks of nonviolent moral direct action on May 14, 2018. Rev. Dr. Barber was arrested outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Demonstrators have also been holding nonviolent protests at the State Legislature in Raleigh.

“Somebody’s hurting our people and it’s gone on far too long. We won’t be silent anymore,” said Rev. Dr. Barber, national co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. “There’s a problem with our moral narrative in this country.”

The “revived” campaign seeks to build on the original 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was a multi-cultural, multi-faith movement that brought thousands of Americans living in poverty to the national mall to demand better living conditions and higher wages.

Rabbi Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) noted that the Poor People’s Campaign did not just begin last week or even 50 years ago.

“The Poor People’s Campaign is a biblical campaign. The bible says there has always been people in need,” Jacobs said. “We’re taught that all of the vulnerable are a part of God’s circle of love.”

The Reform Jewish Movement’s partnership with the Poor People’s Campaign helps build on the Reform Movement’s commitment to racial justice and civil rights. The URJ is the largest and most diverse stream of Judaism, representing 900 congregations and two million people throughout North America.

The new Poor People’s Campaign has a list of demands that includes, but is not limited to, changes to federal and state living wage laws, expansion of Medicaid, a reinvestment in public housing, a repeal to the 2017 GOP-led tax plan, restoration of the Voting Rights Act, an end to America’s militarism and reallocation of resources from the military budget to education, health care, jobs and green infrastructure needs.

According to the federal Official Poverty Measure (OPM) model, in 2016, 12.7 percent of the U.S. population — or 40.6 million people — were poor and nearly 30 percent or 95 million were low income, which is defined as living at less than twice the poverty line. The OPM is an income-based measure developed in the 1960s that uses the Federal Poverty Line (FPL) to define poverty.

The Poor People’s Campaign asserts that the OPM model is outdated and there are far more people suffering from economic insecurity than the numbers show, because it does not consider the cost of food, clothing, housing and utilities, and government programs that have assisted low-income families and individuals who are not otherwise designated as poor.

Once those factors are accounted for, the Poor People’s Campaign states that 43.5 percent or 140 million people were poor or low-income in 2016.

“In the America I love, we are intolerant of systemic racism, and the unconscionable income inequality that afflicts our land. Let us choose the blessing of honor, love, justice and compassion instead of the curse of hatred, bigotry and racism,” said Rabbi Jacobs. “We raise our voices together and feel the deep sense of common cause. It’s a time of action.”


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