Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival


September 26, 2018

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), flanked on her right by Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), and on her left by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). and Rep. David Price (D-NC).

Anti-poverty advocates gathered in the U.S. Capitol Wednesday as House Democrats convened a hearing on poverty in the U.S.

The hearing came after the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival this summer called on Congress to convene a bipartisan hearing to focus attention on policies that have harmed children in the U.S. Wednesday’s hearing was not in fact bipartisan; after House Speaker Paul Ryan declined to call such a hearing, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi instead organized an event and nearly a dozen House Democrats attended.

The hearing featured personal stories about different forms of economic and social injustice in communities across the country. Pelosi and another member of Congress who has led anti-poverty efforts and chairs a caucus on the issue, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), noted that poverty disproportionately affects children.

Sandra Marquina spoke of her husband, Jose Chicas, who has spent more than a year in a Durham, North Carolina sanctuary in order to avoid immediate deportation to El Salvador, a country he left in 1985 to escape civil war and has not seen since. Since then, Chicas, who after escaping to the U.S. became the minister of an Evangelical church, faces imminent deportation due to President Trump’s immigration crackdown.

“I am asking you to please help us,” Marquina said. “I know you cannot change the President. But please, please do something.”

Nicole Hill of Detroit talked about a problem many Americans probably have not heard about – the high cost of water in her city and the number of people who now have no running water. She said there have been close to 100,000 “water cut-offs” in Detroit since 2014, accompanied by massive home foreclosures and a recent outbreak of Hepatitis A. Detroit has one of the highest poverty rates in the U.S.

“Living in a home without water is grounds for removal of your child from your home,” Hill said, adding that her water was cut off for two months in 2014. “I chose to hide my children.”

Darrin Brooks of Durham, North Carolina, a 26-year-old fast food worker who is gay, recounted how he was kicked out of his home at the age of 17. Today, on his minimum wage salary, he cannot afford stable housing and he cannot afford health insurance in a state that has chosen not to expand Medicaid.

Elizabeth Strader of Evansville, Indiana is an under-employed mother of two living below the federal poverty level. She has nearly $4,000 in credit card debt and $60,000 in student loans. All of her cash income goes to paying interest; she feeds her family on $138 a month in SNAP benefits, and she relies on friends and relatives to help out with child care so that she can work. She described herself as “physically, mentally, emotionally tired.”

“We do not live in a mom-friendly or child-friendly country,” she said. “I feel expendable. And if I am expendable, then so too are children. And that can’t be…It is my hope that you will help America care again.”

Ameena Matthews, an anti-violence activist in Chicago, talked about escaping the streets of Chicago’s South Side. She went on to be featured in the award-winning documentary The Interrupters, and in 2011 was named Chicagoan of the Year. Today, her work continues, despite being diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer.

Many of the speakers at Wednesday’s hearing focused not just on those living under the poverty line, but on “low-wealth” individuals and families. Rev. William Barber, who originally had been scheduled to attend the hearing but could not attend in person due to a family emergency and the remnants of Hurricane Florence, told the assembly by phone that 43 percent of the U.S. population are “poor or low-wealth persons” and 73 percent of those are women or children.

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, who co-chairs the Poor People’s Campaign along with Rev. Barber, said many of these people are “one emergency, one storm, one health care crisis” away from catastrophe.

The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival drew national attention this past June when tens of thousands of people in 40 states plus D.C. rallied and engaged in civil disobedience to bring attention to poverty and economic, racial and social injustice in the U.S.