YouTube video

Poor People’s Campaign Co-Chairs Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis and Rev. Dr. William Barber II want to seize this moment with a broad-based, multi-racial movement to change an ‘impoverished democracy.’

Story Transcript


NIC SMITH: Our backs are against the wall, and we got no choice but to push.

LEON: Now, before you come down here and cast stones in a glass home, walk a mile in their shoes for a minute.

SPEAKER: One out of 16 people in Aberdeen are homeless. A lot of people are young. That’s something that’s-

REV. DR. WILLIAM BARBER II: In this encampment.


REV. DR. WILLIAM BARBER II: So they’re millennials.

SPEAKER: Yeah. Between 18 and 35. It’s probably the largest demographic here.

STANLEY STURGILL: I worked 41 years in the coal mines. I have black lung, and it’s just unfathomable what these poor coal miners have to go through in order to get what they have worked for and deserve.

PAMELA RUSH: My name is Pamela Rush. I’m from Lowndes County, Alabama, and I live in a mobile home with my two kids. And I got raw sewage. I don’t have no money, I’m poor. And I have to travel back and further to Birmingham to take my daughter with the CPAP machine. I don’t have a car and don’t have nobody to take them.

ROBERT TAYLOR: There’s a new chemical company that’s producing another carcinogen. What effect does that have on us? Especially our children. But in our community, it’s amazing the people who just started dying of cancer. That became a big fear. And when my wife was diagnosed with cancer, I was amazed at the black women that would ring our gold bell and walk in the door and pull the wig off to show my wife that I have it too. That red stuff you see there, they dump tons of it in the river, directly across the school ground. And we tried to get the government to test that, the earth, the soil in a playground, and they refused to do it.

SPEAKER: This is not right.

NEWS ANCHOR: All of that breaking news in Albany where a large group of protesters have moved into the street-

NEWS ANCHOR: Washington Avenue between City Hall and Lark Street closed down-

NEWS ANCHOR: Protestors with the Poor People’s Campaign of Indiana.

REV. DR. WILLIAM BARBER II: Two o’clock on the East coast, two o’clock in the middle two o’clock on the West coast, a wave, and the historians tell us it’s never happened before.


MARC STEINER: Welcome to the Real News. This is Marc Steiner. It’s good to have you all with us. And that was just a short clip of the work of the Poor People’s Campaign. 52 years ago, before his assassination, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King spearheaded the Poor People’s Campaign. Thousands of poor people answered the call and built and lived in Resurrection City on the mall of Washington DC. 52 years ago, after 42 days of occupation, the federal government sent the police to forcibly remove us from our encampment. 52 years later, the state of income inequality and poverty is worse now than it was then, but the movement is alive and growing.

On the weekend of June 20th, the mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March in Washington called by the new Poor People’s Campaign was to take place. COVID forced it to go digital, and it appears that upwards of 2.5 million people entered the call. Today we talked with the two co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign, Reverend Dr. William Barber the second and the Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis. Reverend Dr. William Barber the second is president of the repairs of the breach in Goldsboro, North Carolina who’s also a pastor of the Greenleaf Christian Church, former president of the North Carolina conference of the NAACP and architect to the Grassroots social movement, Moral Mondays. He’s also a member of the national board of directors of the NAACP. And Reverend Barber is author of numerous books, including We Are Called to Be a Movement, which was just published by Workman Publishing.

And the Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis who also joins us is the director of the Kairos Center for Religious Rights, and Social Justice at the Union Theological Seminary and author of Always with Us? What Jesus Really said about The Poor, coauthor of Revive Us Again, Vision and Action in Moral Organizing. And Reverend Theoharis is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian church. And welcome to The Real News, it’s a real pleasure to have you both with us. So-


MARC STEINER: Where do we begin here? Oh, it’s great having you both here. So let’s just talk first about what happened on the weekend of the June 20th. I watched … it was an amazing event. It went on all weekend long and the numbers that they say of people who came, which is stunning. So talk a bit about that experience. What was that like? Liz [inaudible 00:04:36] start with you.

REV. DR. LIZ THEOHARIS: So indeed, on June 20th and throughout the weekend, we had a mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington, where more than 3 million people joined just from Facebook, but also on MSNBC, on CSPAN, on CNN and what folks saw when they tuned in, when they joined this massive assembly, digital justice gathering, was the stories and the solutions of some of the 140 million people who are poor and low income in this country.

MARC STEINER: So were you shocked by the numbers Reverend Barber?

REV. DR. WILLIAM BARBER II: Indeed. We knew there would be a good numbers. We had 150000 people that RSVPd, but we also knew there was a hunger out here. We’ve seen it for three years, remember? We didn’t just start this year. And in 2018, we launched this campaign with six weeks of direct action in 42 States and District of Columbia, and more than 5000 people were arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience as they tried to present this agenda to governors and legislators across the country and to the United States Congress. And then on June 23rd of 2018, we had some 30000 people to show up in person to launch this campaign. And then in 2019, we held a congress and over a thousand people showed up of every race, creed, color, and sexuality, and 10 presidential candidates came and they were questioned by poor and lower people and religious leaders as it related to our campaign and our program and our platform. And then we presented a moral budget before the United States house of Representative Budget Committee. And then we went back to work.

We were in the middle of, “We must do more to it.” We were in the middle of it, and then COVID happened. But when 2.5 million plus people showed up, it reminded us of the power of Grassroots organized, the power of moral fusion, that people in this country are really ready for a grownup conversation, an intersectional conversation that deals with the interlocking injustices of systemic racism in all of its forms, systemic poverty, ecological devastation, the word economy, and the false moral narrative of religious nationalism. And they also are ready to hear from new narratives, not just people prognosticating and speaking on behalf of the poor, but they’re ready to see the agency of poor and low [inaudible 00:07:09] people and their allies speaking on their behalf, declaring a new agenda and building power, which is exactly what this movement is all about.

MARC STEINER: So earlier you mentioned, Robert, the COVID and where we are, and here we are in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, which really has exposed the racial and class disparities in our country. We’ve seen frontline workers suffering economically, or people of color or poor people. Evictions loom, employment grows, and it raises a lot of issues. We’re also in the midst of a time now, we’re facing … as we’re facing COVID, we’re facing all these mass demonstrations because of the police murders of George Floyd and Briana Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and too too many others. And you, Reverend Barber and Phyllis Bennis wrote this piece on police and military bringing our wars home just this week.

So let’s talk about the moment we’re in for a moment and what … how both these situations that we are thrusting to have really, seems to be, in some ways to redefine the struggle and give it a new momentum. So I’m curious as you both, you have your feelings, thoughts, and analysis of what this moment is and what it means for us. Reverend Barber, why don’t you begin-

REV. DR. WILLIAM BARBER II: One of the thing that Liz is very good at is reminding people, and we try to do in this movement that … too often, we interpret a moment in the moment and forget that there was a lot of movements before the moment. And so, yes, this is a moment when people are moving because of the spark that George Floyd’s death online killing murder lynching did, but there was a lot of kindling, would use a country word, that had already been piled there by movements all across that had been going on. And his death was kind of like Emmett Till’s death. When Emmett Till was killed, it sparked something that Rosa Parks not only went after the killers of Emmett Till and Dr King and others, they said, “It’s time to go after the system of injustice.” Which is the what? The kills not just the who to kill.

So I think in this moment, one of the reasons that there was so much response to George Floyd is because his, “I can’t breathe.” is shorthand for how a whole lot of people are feeling in this moment. When over a hundred thousand people have died, needlessly, that didn’t have to die, at least 60%, 70% of them. And then what did they die from? COVID. And when they died, what caused their death? Not being able to breathe. When people are being forced to go into work, black and brown and poor white people, into lethal situations without protection, what are they being forced to do? Into a situation that could kill them and take their breath away. And when even before COVID and all of this happened, 700 people were dying a day from poverty being suffocated and strangled to death. As Dr. King said, way back in ’67, he said not providing people what they needed for good jobs was a form of murder, of policy strangulation.

And so we have now a situation where all of these things have come together, all this pain has come together. And then on top of that, you see the state literally kill somebody in the street on camera, and you see the state … the police are supposed to represent the state, and instead of this it doing the job of protecting and serving, it did the job of lynching and murdering. And I think people just said, “Wait a minute, this is enough.”

But we must not mistake that if there had not been the years of Black Lives Matter before this moment, if there had not been the years of fusion politics before this moment, the Poor People’s Campaign and the movement around the environment, all raising these questions of the death measurement. We’ve been talking about the death measurement that come from poverty and people not having healthcare. And the Green Movement has been talking about the death measurement of what happens if we don’t take care of our planet. And when all of this came together in this moment where people were already in pain and slowed down and at home and could pay attention, it created a spark, if you will.

Now what we believe. And we were the first gathering after George Floyd’s death that put together a major platform, a full platform to address five issues, and what we believe in this moment is, just like Rosa Parks knew about the death of Emmett Till, we would be asking too little if all we ask is for police reform and the killers to be prosecuted. This is a third reconstruction moment. This is a moment that we must challenge the death measurement in every form of public policy that destroys life, and we must fight against it and fight for life itself.

REV. DR. LIZ THEOHARIS: So indeed what we’ve seen over the past four months as this pandemic has worsened, not gotten better, and as police killings continue, even after George Floyd’s murder is the revealing of the social and economic ills that are at the base and structure of the society. And what we knew before even this pandemic hit or this recent about of police violence, policy violence that has been happening for so too long, is that the deep inequities in our society, the fact that our nation in the United States spends more on healthcare, but has less healthcare, the fact that we have the levels of low wage work of the voter suppression that’s taking place and of just deep and spread poverty, is actually fertile ground, it’s in those fissures, as public health officials have told us, that the pandemic of poverty …

But then the dual pandemics of racism and poverty have been able to expand and grow in the midst of this pandemic. And what our elected officials have done in this moment has been only to make matters worse by bailing out the rich, by putting more resources into the very institutions in society that are actually allowing for this type of inequality and not actually expanding healthcare, raising wages, doing away with homelessness, funding, our schools and not our police and military to the extent that they do, that this is just a symptom of this larger disease that is spread throughout this impoverished democracy.

And so I think what we’re seeing, as Reverend Barber talked about, is in the movements that are happening in the streets and in people’s homes in this moment where people are crying out for justice, and that we all must stop being suffocated by the injustice, by the racism, by the poverty, by the devastation of our environment, by the militarization of our communities and by a distorted narrative that blames people who are suffering right now for all of society’s problems. That tries to pit us against each other and feeds us a lie that there’s scarcity, that there’s not enough, that this is as good as it gets, when we have seen over the past couple of months, the rich and powerful would be bailed out and the rest of us to be left to fend for ourselves while in fending for ourselves, we’re seeing amazing lifesaving, bold, visionary action demands that’s coming out, both of this Poor People’s Campaign and of just folks organizing in communities before COVID-19, before this last round of police violence. And are going to continue into the future, as things both get worse, and as people’s hope that life could be better, awakens further.

MARC STEINER: So that leads right into that something I was thinking about. I was looking at all the documents that … they were on your website, The Poor People’s Campaign, and you have the souls of poor folk moral audit, poor people’s moral budget. And [inaudible 00:15:01] universal health care, universal basic income, expanded payments, maternity leave, increased minimum wage, stopping gentrification, affordable housing, funding community hospitals, erasing student loans and police and prison abolition and more. And then when you look what Congress did during COVID, perhaps in the Cares Act, it really answered very little.
So the question is, how does that change? It’s a two part question. I’m really curious, what’s your thoughts on this? But I know a lot of people viewing this are going, “Can this really change under capitalism? Is that possible? A and B how do you build a movement to make the change that we all know has to happen when it comes to ending poverty and ending racism? The budget you put together was hugely thought out and deep.” So let’s talk a bit about how you get that budget to become reality and B, can it happen in the system that we have?

REV. DR. WILLIAM BARBER II: What we say, change can come, but it can’t come without an intersectional movement, it can’t come without a moral fusion movement, it can’t come when you have black folk on a silo over here and white people in a silo over here and Brown people in the silo over here, it can’t come when the environment is the over here. And if people fight against poverty over here, then people fight against racism toward black people over here, and the people fighting against racism toward indigenous people are over here. And the people fighting for Latinos are over here, and the people standing against the war economy are over here. What can only happen is when all of these forces reject [inaudible 00:00:16:27], this side, that we have to come together in moral fusion and understand that the same people that are blocking the healthcare after all are the same ones that are undermining rights from the LGBT community, the same ones that are undermining community policies for women and [inaudible 00:16:43] the community and undermining voter voting rights.
And now, what do I mean by that? We’ve done a study that’s coming out in just a bit that will show that if 15% of poor and low wealth people of every race, creed, color, and sexuality, would organize themselves around an agenda and register themselves to vote, they could fundamentally shift the political calculus in this country, even in the South. Dr. King told us that in late 1965, in the end of December, the Montgomery march, when he said every time there’s a possibility for poor black and poor white folk to come together, the aristocracy deliberately souls division because they’d have the power.

So we’re in a moment now Marc, where we have a unique power demographically. We have a unique power morally. We have a unique power politically, and we have a unique ability to fuse. People are seeing how connected we are. And we believe in this moment, yes. Now, will it happen overnight? No, but can it happen faster than we might think? Yes. If we have the staying power and stop believing that we don’t have the power to change things, and let’s build a moral movement and let’s put the people impacted at the front of the movement, that’s what you saw on June 20th. We did not have people speaking on behalf of people. We had people themselves with their own agency saying, “It’s time to change because I am Exhibit A of why things must change in this moment.”

REV. DR. LIZ THEOHARIS: I appreciated that you raised the moral budget and the souls of poor folk audit, as well as the fact that the Poor People’s Campaign has and launched on June 20th this Moral Justice Jubilee platform. And in all of these documents, what it shows is that we found the money, that we have the resources that if this nation were to cut our military and still be … make this nation in the world actually quite a bit more safe, if we were to have a fair taxation system, if we were to forgive the debts that can’t be paid, the household debt, the student debt, and if we were to invest in programs like education and living wage jobs and healthcare, that in fact, not only could we overcome the injustices that are at the heart of our society, the whole society and economy would do better.

We have this saying that when you lift from the bottom, that everybody rises. And so indeed the work that the Poor People’s Campaign and National Call for More Revival is all about, is building this moral fusion movement that Reverend Barber was talking about, which is the only thing, when you look at history, that has ever been able to build the kind of power and influence to be able to enact the demands of the movement. And so that’s what we’re doing now, is that we’ve identified the solutions. They come out of the hollers of Kentucky to the Delta of Mississippi, to the farms of California and they’re within reach, things don’t have to be this way. And so now, instead of having a scarcity of resources, we have a scarcity of political will, but we know what to do in the face of that. That’s the build power and to organize and mobilize people from all walks of life, into a powerful movement.

REV. DR. WILLIAM BARBER II: The boats are the policies, the boats are the policies that … because everybody doesn’t have the same boat because of discriminatory policy. So what we say is, if you lift from the bottom. In other words, if you go to the bottom of the people who are quote unquote at the bottom in various areas, and lift from there, not just lift … let’s say the tide going to rise, but you pay specific attention to the bottom, and you start your public policy from the bottom. And you start your public policy with the question of the poor at the center of every decision, because how in the world can a society to have 140 million people poor and low wealth, 43% of that society, and think that it can continue that way and whatever quote, unquote mechanisms it has, even capitalism, are going … is going to ultimately work, it’s not going to work.

I think there’s a social scientist at MIT said, “We have a problem with our economic systems today, and it’s called conscience.” It’s the problem of conscience. It’s the problem of attention, violence, is the problem that even in our political discourse, you have 140 million people living in poverty, and nobody talks about them. Politicians don’t do it, people running for president. We have to change that.
And then the last thing is that as Joseph [Stickley 00:21:28] had said, we have to wrestle with the right question. Whenever you raise these issues, the first question is, “Well, what’s the cost?” The question has to be flipped. “What’s the cost not to?” And that’s why when you show this connection, when you put that person from Kansas, beside that person from the Delta of Mississippi, and they all are talking about the same thing, then you start seeing not only the human cost, but the economic cost, and ultimately the very cost to the existence of the democracy.

Because we believe in this moment that if … When we look at our budget, when you look at the agenda, when you look at what’s going on this pandemic, we’re headed toward the possibility of poverty, low [inaudible 00:22:10] to be over 50% of this peak of the country, it’s over 50%. It’s 43% now, it’s going to be over 50 with this pandemic. We’re talking about 40% of the people making under $40000 losing that job, we’re talking about 15 million people, maybe more, millions more being added to unemployment and millions more being added to the role of poverty, the whole new poverty. People never thought they were going to be poor. So if we can’t get it right now, if this country is not ready or will soon ready to address these issues, regardless of what name you want to call it, then God help us because the cost of the inequality is going to destroy us if we don’t deal with.

MARC STEINER: We’re going back to the massive demonstrations taking place across the country, over a hundred thousand people being arrested in this country right now to stop police brutality and stop what’s happening with the police.


MARC STEINER: So, one thing that I thought about was, the racism is deep in the bone of the society. It’s divided our movements so many times in history. And I remember times when it did. And I remember two quick things. I remember Fannie Lou Hamer in Mississippi when she started her co-op and there was a white farmer family there. And somebody said to her, “You can’t have them in our movement.” And she said, “Why?” And they said, “Because they’re in the clan.” And she said, “Well, after they finish working with us, they’re not going to be in the clan anymore.” I remember that very clearly. And I remember Fred Hampton when I was with young Patriots in Chicago, building the rainbow coalition that crosses racial lines.

But the reality also is that race has divided us deeply and racism, and so I’m curious, when you talk about building the movement, how do you build the coalition and how did this happen with Black Lives Matter, clearly a very strong and important black agenda, how do you deal with the issues of reparations? How do you deal with calls for police abolition? How do you ensure that a movement can be built that actually can be cohesive when those things are paramount to so many people I just mentioned and keep a powerful cross racial movement with black leadership? How does that happen?

REV. DR. WILLIAM BARBER II: I don’t know if the movement … In a moral moment, it doesn’t have to have black leadership, it has to have moral leadership. And I appreciate those that say, “We have to have black leadership.” But we are at a different place. Liz is white and Armenian, I’m black, [inaudible 00:24:36] right? We said we want to meet with the people who want to do moral fusion. Everybody didn’t agree with what Fannie Lou Hamer just said to you, but she did. You’ve always had to have a group of people who believe in what we can do together. So what we say in our movement is, when we go into communities, we say, “Look, here are five issues and we are not a movement that’s going to try to address them separately. You can’t do it anymore. It just doesn’t work. So we’re going to have grown up factual facing of racism, systemic racism.”

So if we’re in the hollers of Kentucky in Harland County, with 500 white folk, we start with racism as an issue. And we don’t just talk about race into our black people, we also say, “Wait a minute, you got to deal racism, you got to deal with the racism toward first nation people, indigenous, you have to deal with the racism to what? Our Brown brothers and sisters. You have to deal with this, you can’t just deal with it … you can’t just deal with it in terms of police violence. You have to deal with police violence, incarceration, bad parts of the wars, immigrants, the continuing the bad parts of the water, indigenous brothers and sisters, resegregation of public schools. Let’s deal with racism. But then you say, if you going to deal with racism, you also got to deal with systemic poverty. And then you got to connect that to ecological devastation.

4 million families get up every morning, can buy unleaded gas, can’t buy unleaded water. You have to deal with the war economy, 54 cents of every discretionary dollar going to war economy and less than 16 cents going to education, infrastructure, and healthcare. You have to deal with this false moral narrative of religious nationalism, white evangelists, localism that is used so often as a divider. It is used to actually attempt to falsely consecrate division as quote unquote, the way of the divine and the way of God, and you can never separate them. Now, that’s not easy.

Remember when Dr. King and the Welfare Rights Women Workers, let’s not forget that Dr. King may have been the name, but it was Welfare Rights Workers, it was Cesar Chavez, it was Indigenous Federation, it was poor folk from Appalachia. But remember when Dr. King in New York said, we got to adjust these three evils, the government chastised him, he lost his invite to the White House, black organizations walked away from him. The point being is that analysis was what was needed. It was killed, it was assassinated, and we stepped back.

I’m saying, even in predominantly white communities, invariably, somebody would stand up and say, “Wait a minute. We’re being played against each other.” One guy said, “Well damn Reverend Barber, they using all of us against each other.” And we say, “And that’s right, now what are you going to do about that?” And so in Kentucky, we’ve been able to see black folk from Louisville, not all black the folk, but a significant number of black folk hookup with white folk from the hills of Kentucky. And last year they used their power to change the governorship, three counties that were Trump counties turned when people came together and said, “Wait a minute, we got to address all five of these things.” That’s how we believe you have to be.

And we’re in conversation with Black Lives Matter that … we are actually allies and we’re talking to them and they are … on the day of June 20th, the Black Lives Matter sent out a message to all their people to watch June, 2020. So they’re understanding. So we had room, if a group is black men, great. If a movement is co-led like Liz and I, great. If a movement is white-led great, but the issue is, are you clear on these five interlocking injustices and that we need black, Brown, red, yellow, gay, straight trans; we need everybody to hone in and focus on this like a laser, and then we can break through in this problem.

REV. DR. LIZ THEOHARIS: The Poor People’s Campaign is an counterintuitive movement, we always say. We have those folks in the hills of Kentucky and from the farms of Kansas, as well as from the part like Lowndes County, Alabama, for instance, the home of the Black Panther party, where black and white residents have raw sewage in their yards. And folks from all of these different communities across the country, we’re organized with coordinating committees in 46 States across the country, and after June 20th, there’s more States that are trying to join, trying to form coordinating committees, trying to build this moral fusion movement. And again, what we’re seeing is that poor people across all of the lines that divide us, geography, race, religion, issue area, party, political party, are in this movement together. And no, it’s not easy, and no, it doesn’t happen overnight.

People have been giving their lives for us to be able to be at the moment that we are now, but we’re at this moment. And the question is, can we build the kind of power it’s going to take to make the power structures of this nation say yes? Because all they’ve been saying is no to the poor, no to the immigrant, no to the Muslim, no to the queer, no to the black, no to everybody in this society. And what we’re saying is that people across all of these lines are saying yes to healthcare, yes to education, yes to living wages, yes to a guaranteed adequate income, and it is all possible. Things do not have to be this way.

And the way you change is you look at history and see how people have changed before. There is a powerful history in this country of moral fusion movements, of poor white people and poor black people and poor immigrants all banding together, coming together. It happened in abolition, it happened in reconstruction, it happened in the Industrial Union Movement, it happened in the Women’s Suffrage Movement, it happened in the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, it happened in the bonus armies, it happened in the Poor People’s Campaign and it’s happening today. And we need everybody, and folks should join the Poor People’s Campaign and should get involved in all of the powerful organizing, bold, visionary organizing that is happening in this moment, because it is a power to behold, and it’s what is only thing that can save this impoverished democracy and the very soul of this nation.

REV. DR. WILLIAM BARBER II: We get asked sometimes, what one thing does the campaign want? And we have a couple of answers to that. One is, well, you just gave corporations 3 trillion things in the middle of a pandemic, but you didn’t give the essential workers the basics that they needed; healthcare, unemployment, PPE. So don’t ever ask us what one thing we want, we got 50 agenda items. Don’t ever ask. But the second thing is, if presidential campaigns have a platform, we said it’s about time for a movement to have a platform. A movement not just to be a spectacle movement that says this one thing, but to have a platform.

And even at this George Floyd [inaudible 00:32:22], we’re asking people to think a little bit deeper, George Floyd, before he was strangled and lynched on that street, had COVID. He had … didn’t get decent unemployment, he didn’t get decent sick leave. He came to Minnesota looking for a good job, he got an essential job without the essentials. So he’s being strangled to death economic and every way else, so we need to take a whole look even at his life, right? And recognize that if, to truly say honor him, would be the take on all the issues that were suffocating him before that police person finished off the job. And so, I think it’s so important that we remember that.

And then lastly, let’s be honest. And Liz, I know she wouldn’t mind me saying this. When we started together, some people went to Liz who were used to organizing a silos and said, “You’re a woman. Why are you over there working with this guy? Why don’t you get normal?” People came to me and said, “Barber, why don’t you use your [inaudible 00:33:18] just to have a black agenda?” I said, “We do have a black agenda, but we also recognize that racism is targeted at black people and Latino people and first nation people, and racism really is a hatred of humanity.” And it’s surely a hatred of democracy. And there comes a point that I want to be on the front line with whoever, if it’s

Marc, if it’s Liz or whoever that says, “It’s time to deal with these five interlocking injustices.”

And what we had to tell folk when they wanted us to operate in the silo perspective, we didn’t get mad with them, we just said, “We’re not doing that. That’s not the way we role.” And a lot of them have come back since then and apologized. And what they don’t understand, moral fusion movement doesn’t require you to leave your silo, it requires you to understand your silo is connected to other folks silos, and if you can find ways every so often, you don’t have to do it all the time. The Poor People’s Campaign is not another organization, it’s an organism. If you can find ways to come together, you can actually build power together because the forces of injustice are really attacking us all. We had to teach that in the LGBTQ community, we said, “There’s no way in the world people fighting for gay rights can not be in the fight for voters, because the very people that get elected through voter suppression, they are the very ones that pass the laws that are anti LGBTO. And when we stop thinking like that …

One state we went in last thing, we put up a map and we asked everybody what their issue was. And then we said, “Now go on that map and point out all of the state legislators that are against your issues.” And they were all the same people, whether it was one person fighting for healthcare, whether they were fighting against police killing, it was the same people. So if they are the same and if meaningful, unjust folk are smart enough to come together, then God knows the movement has to be smart enough to unite together, that’s all we’re saying in this movement. Seems strange to some folk, but we can’t internalize the divisions to things that have kept us apart.

I was looking at you last week, when I got on the day, I said, “Oh, he’s got an African statue behind him.” And I see the African print up on your wall, and then I know your struggle. Well, for us, if you can come in and help lead, come on in. I understand the struggle. I understand why we need to sometimes have that. I’m clear about that. But we also know that we needed to build some permanency, and that’s the last thing I’ll say. One of the reasons we built the way we built, and Liz has been so clear on that, she’s fierce about this, we got to make sure the poor, low wealth people are in the lead. It is because we wanted to make sure this time you can’t kill us all.

So we got coaches, you can’t kill us all. We got … every coordinating committee has three chairs, an impacted person, the more religious leading the advocate, diverse, all over the country, 45 of them now, permanently. So you can’t just shoot this movement off or buy this movement off. We wanted to make it so it was deep enough to have lasting power, and because we believe it’s so important to this democracy. And it’s starting, we believe to work and the fact that 2.5 million people showed up. If two had showed up, we would still do it. But the fact that that many people would show up says to us, so many people are ready for us to be one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. And since America said it, we going to hold America accountable.

MARC STEINER: And Reverend Liz Theoharis and William Barber, thank you both so much for taking all this time here with us at The Real News. I look forward to sharing this with the nation and the world. And we’ll go out together brothers and sisters, and build a movement. Thank you so much.

REV. DR. WILLIAM BARBER II: Thank you so much. God bless you.

REV. DR. LIZ THEOHARIS: Thank you. Thank you.

MARC STEINER: God bless you both. And I’m Marc Seiner here from Real News Network and thank you all for being with us

Studio: Dwayne Gladden
Production: Ericka Blount Danois

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Host, The Marc Steiner Show
Marc Steiner is the host of "The Marc Steiner Show" on TRNN. He is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on social justice issues. He walked his first picket line at age 13, and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested at a civil rights protest during the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught theater for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993-2018 Marc's signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR—which Marc co-founded—and Morgan State University’s WEAA.