COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The Poor People’s Campaign is launching a national bus tour of poverty-stricken areas to bring attention to what they call the “real crises” or “interlocking injustices” afflicting the country including systematic racism, poverty, voter suppression and ecological devastation.
“The war on poverty is not over. It was assassinated. It was defunded. It was rolled back, and it is time for us, now, to build it again,” Rev. William Barber II said in a phone interview.
The National Emergency Truth and Poverty Tour will kick-off Saturday in Charleston, South Carolina, and more than 30 states will participate in the bus tours.
Last year, The Poor People’s Campaign organized rallies nationwide where protesters called for 40 days of non-violent action to refocus the national conversation around what they called fundamental issues. The bus tour is a continuation of their mission to bring a “moral revival” by building what Barber called a “multiracial, multigenerational coalition.”
Part of the work is putting a face to the facts and driving the narrative which is why starting in the South is important, the North Carolina minister said.
“Too often in the South, the deliberate work of the southern strategy was to divide poor working-class white people, poor working-class black people, poor working-class brown people to try and keep them from forming a powerful political coalition and a voting coalition together,” Barber said.
Campaign co-chair Rev. Liz Theoharis said while the group is not partisan, they are political. In June, the Poor People’s Campaign plans to take their actions to D.C. for a moral congress and lead a march on Washington after the 2020 primaries.
“We’re nationalizing state movements,” Theoharis said. “So much of this is about building the power of people at a local state level.”
Saturday’s launch comes 50 years after the 1969 Charleston hospital strike where more than 400 African-American hospital workers protested against poor working conditions and low wages. Some of those hospital strikers will be speaking Saturday morning in Charleston about their experiences along with the leaders of the national campaign.
An organizing workshop will take place in the afternoon. Charleston organizer Briana Kemp said the tour is not about showcasing poor communities but highlighting solutions and passing on the organizing torch to different communities.
“We need to tell the stories and lift up the voices of people who are living it every day, but we also know that those same people have the solutions,” Kemp said. “We share these common principles and values.”
The problem is poor and low wealth people are pushed into the shadows in this country and the political narrative surrounding that needs to be shifted, Barber said.
“We believe there’s still a conscience in this country,” Barber said. “There’s still a heart somewhere, it’s got to sometimes be defibrillated.”