Poor People's Campaign to begin 40 days of action next month

As organizers rekindle an economic justice effort the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was planning when he was killed, they are looking at people like Amy Jo Hutchison to lead the way.

Hutchison, 46, is the single mother of two daughters, ages 14 and 11. She's on Medicaid, and her daughters are enrolled in the Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides low-cost coverage. She has a full-time job and a bachelor's degree. And she's white.

"People perceive me as solidly middle class," said Hutchinson, who lives in Wheeling and is one of the campaign's leaders in West Virginia. But she describes herself as living on the "high end of poverty."

"There's never a month when two flat tires wouldn't cripple me," she said in a phone interview Monday.

Leaders of the Poor People's Campaign plan to start 40 days of protests, marches and other actions on May 14. Supporters in 30 states will be trained on nonviolent direct actions, taking cues from the "Moral Monday" movement that the Rev. William Barber led in North Carolina when he was head of the state chapter of the NAACP.

Campaign directors Barber and the Rev. Liz Theoharis discussed the campaign's demands, including the restoration and expansion of the Voting Rights Act, during a news conference Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The campaign recently took its message to crowds in Kentucky and West Virginia, Barber said in a phone interview Monday. Both states had poverty rates close to 18 percent for the years 2014 to 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"The salvation of this country is when black, white and brown working class, working poor and poor form a fusion movement that's going to save the heart of this country," Barber said.

Census figures show that the poverty rate among blacks was 22 percent in 2016, while it was almost 9 percent among whites. In sheer numbers, almost 17.5 million white people are classified as living in poverty, compared with 8.7 million black people. The overall U.S. poverty rate was about 13 percent in 2016.

It's also important that those who live in poverty are working directly with the campaign to improve their lives, said Hutchison, an organizer with an anti-poverty group called Our Children, Our Future.

"We're not generally given the space to come together and take a stand," she said. "We're constantly fighting for our dignity."

Barber said the 40 days of action will have been successful if, at the end, the campaign has changed the country's narrative so that the poor are discussed and they're involved in creating strategies to get people out of poverty.

"The Democrats talk about the middle class," he said. "The Republicans talk about the military. No one's talking about the poor."


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