The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival and the Institute for Policy Studies are continuing the critical work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. King and his allies envisioned the movement as a multiracial partnership for economic justice.

In 2018, Reverend William Barber II and Reverend Liz Theoharis rolled out a new Poor People’s Campaign to renew this spirit.

“In 1968, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many others called for a ‘revolution of values’ in America,” they wrote. “They sought to build a broad, fusion movement that could unite poor and impacted communities across the country. Their name was a direct cry from the underside of history: The Poor People’s Campaign.”

Today, the new Poor People’s Campaign, led by impacted people from over 40 states, is working with partners across the country to build power and expose the structural problems that have created economic distress and misery for 140 million people in this country.

The Institute for Policy Studies serves as the research arm of the campaign, helping  produce groundbreaking studies of poverty in America like the Souls of Poor Folk audit, as well as detailed proposals for solutions like the Moral Budget. Our latest fact sheet produced with the campaign explains how an ambitious response to the COVID-19 pandemic could begin to repair deeper economic, racial, and gender inequalities.

As part of this work, the Institute for Policy Studies is working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to shift the narrative on poverty in the United States. We’re working with campaign members and other low-income activists to highlight the stories of impacted people whose values of hard work, fairness, family, and community are too often thwarted by systemic obstacles.

Among others, we’ve helped distribute op-eds by low-income workers forced to labor in unsafe conditions during the pandemic, including some who got COVID-19 on the job. We’ve worked with clean water activists in Flint, Michigan and undocumented domestic workers in New York. We’ve helped distribute their narrative-changing op-eds to dozens of newspapers reaching millions of readers.

These stories show that poverty isn’t the result of people who experience it. It’s the result of rigged economic systems.

According to the Poor People’s Campaign, poverty and inequality kill 250,000 people every year here in the world’s wealthiest nation. While the vast majority of economically distressed people in the U.S. are white, this hardship falls disproportionately on Black, Latinx, and Native American populations due to systemic racism.

This structural violence revealed itself again in an outbreak of high-profile police killings of Black Americans over the last year. And it’s a huge part of what has made the COVID-19 pandemic so deadly — and inequitable. Low-income workers of color suffer much higher infection rates, while economic precariousness and job loss have fallen disproportionately on women and femmes, especially those who are Black and brown.

Calling white supremacy “the pre-existing condition” of the pandemic, our IPS colleagues wrote this year:

“The Movement for Black Lives has drawn attention not just to police brutality against Black Americans, but to systemic racism more broadly. A huge cause and consequence of that systemic injustice is the underlying racial wealth divide — the financial legacy of centuries of white supremacy.”

Even before the pandemic, our researchers found that median white families had literally dozens of times the net worth of median Black and Latinx families. The pandemic is supercharging that inequality.

The destruction caused by this inequality is now plain to see. That’s why we at IPS, along with our partners in the Poor People’s Campaign and other movements, believe that moral policy is also economically sound policy. Backed by a moral fusion movement for real solutions — like those outlined the campaign’s “Jubilee Platform” — the 140 million struggling people in the U.S. can lead this country out of the pain we have been suffering.

We celebrate the legacy of Dr. King and his commitment to ending systemic racism and structural poverty in the United States. We invite you to join us.

Karen Dolan directs the Criminalization of Race and Poverty Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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