Last week, more than 60 people from the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC), a national coalition of faith leaders and anti-poverty activists, held their first Mass press conference on the steps of the State House. Over the course of an hour, a series of speakers represented interests such as Fight for $15, the undocumented worker community, and local religious communities as the campaign launched its nationwide push to fight poverty and protect those affected by it.
“Today we are joining tens of thousand of folks across the country in state capitals and Washington, DC, to change these policies that promote systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and environmental destruction that are threatening our democracy and became our national morality,” Massachusetts PPC (MAPCC) Trichair and Eastern Mass Coordinator Savina Martin opened. According to Martin, PCC press conferences were held simultaneously in 32 US cities.
Martin’s comments were piggybacked by MAPCC’s South Shore Trichair Bishop Filipe Teixeira, and Ann Withorn, head of MAPCC’s education committee, who stood in for Western Mass trichair Michaelann Bewsee, the executive director of Arise for Social Justice from Springfield. Other speakers included Michael Prentice, a member of Reclaim Roxbury; Tray Johns, executive director of Fedfam4life, which helps to rehabilitate formerly incarcerated women; and Carlos Rojas, special project director of Youth on Board, which works to engage young people in political and social change.
A crowd stood behind them, holding signs decrying poverty, systemic racism, “the war economy,” and other national issues as immoral.
Rev. Darrell Hamilton II of the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain read aloud a letter that the group later delivered to the offices of Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo and Senate President Harriette Chandler, as well as to state congresses nationwide.
We, all of us here and all of us across this nation, demand a change in course. Our faith, traditions, and state and federal constitutions all testify to the immorality of an economy that leaves out the poor, yet our political discourse consistently ignores 140 million poor and low-income people in America. … We are here today to demand that in communities and on the floors of these states’ legislative bodies, that you uphold the oath that you have taken to represent us on a moral agenda that lifts up the common good and the general welfare.
In the letter’s conclusion, PPC promised that if state legislators remain inactive, the group will respond with a nonviolent campaign of direct action and civil disobedience. The letter’s broad demands for legislation, Withorn noted, would be more productive than offering specific proposals for bills to be passed.
“You don’t want to decide to wait until you’ve figured out exactly what the formula is,” Withorn told DigBoston. “You say [to legislators], ‘You’re the ones that make the decisions, you figure it out. We’ll give you some broad directions [and feedback], and we’ll be back on your door if you don’t have some answers for us in two months.’”
Martin said that PCC would kick off 40 days of “direct action and civil disobedience” between May 13 and June 21, held simultaneously in locations across the country. The 40 days will include marches, sit-ins, and protests in the interest of “advancing the common demands for transformative change.”
She added that localized units of the nationwide campaign would all focus on unified goals.
“Poverty does not differ in any other state across this country,” Martin said. “We are still locked out of equal access to good jobs, higher wages, we still have [issues having access to] decent enough and affordable housing. Each region in each state may have different policies, the makeup may be different. However the fight is the same. We are all under the same sky.”
Martin also emphasized the importance of incorporating faith and religion into their messaging.
“The Bible, as distorted as some people make it out to be in their own language, speaks about the poor. And it is not a sin to be poor. The sin is people’s actions against the poor, the immoral actions that continue to leave the poor out. We are not a religious organization; however, the faith leaders can bring that narrative to where it needs to be at in order to support us.”
On Feb 26, members of MAPCC will meet to discuss their next major event. Martin hopes that the resulting town hall summit will be a day-long event including speakers, voter registration drives, and other activities encouraging organization.
For more information on the Poor People’s Campaign, or to make a donation, check out its national website: poorpeoplescampaign.org. The Mass Poor People’s Campaign can be reached at facebook.com/emappc.