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Declaring that they will take to the streets to end the filibuster and protect voting rights, the Poor People’s Campaign and its major partners on Monday launched a Season of Nonviolent Moral Direct Action in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building where justices last week continued the assault on the right to vote.
“We didn’t get the right to vote by asking politely,” said Linnelll H. Stokes Fall, a Poor People’s Campaign activist who is facing eviction in Baltimore. “We fought for it in a nonviolent way that changed the world. And if that’s how we got the right to vote, then it looks like that’s what we’re going to have to do to keep the right to vote. .. We’re giving the Senate a warning today, but we’re coming back next week, and we won’t be asking nicely.”
The Poor People’s Campaign and the partners are demanding that Congress end the filibuster, pass all provisions of the For the People Act, fully restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act and raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Push comes after Supreme Court deals blows to Voting Rights Act
“I am witnessing a decline in rights and opportunities for the generations behind me. That’s not progress!” said Marianne Smith, a tri-chair of the Oklahoma Poor People’s Campaign, adding that she is fighting for her children and grandchildren.
“Oklahomans — women and children in-particular — need their voices heard by those who actually have the wherewithal to level the playing field,” she said. “We’re not asking for more than anyone else but rather, we’re demanding equal rights. Our children are watching and deserve better.”
It was less than two weeks ago that the U.S.Supreme Court, deciding in two Arizona cases, gutted most of what was left of the Voting Rights Act.
A “two-tier voting system”
“The recent Supreme Court decision makes it clear that if Congress doesn’t establish new federal standards, this nation is headed to a two-tier voting system that hurts people of color, young people, disabled and low-income voters,” said Bishop William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach. “This is not just a Black civil rights issue. It is a Black civil rights issue, but it is also an issue for everyone that cares about democracy – everybody who wants a government that serves all of us, who wants freedom from corporate tyranny. We don’t need an insurrection. We need a resurrection. This is not a battle against Jim Crow but modern James Crow Esquire.”
Bishop Barber advised Democrats to go to Texas, West Virginia and Arizona to assert their support for voting rights with people in the streets and asked President Biden to deliver a speech to Congress.
Democratic legislators in Texas fled the state Monday to try to stop voter suppression bills there, while West Virginia is home to Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat who refuses to end the non-constitutional filibuster, as does Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.
“Through this season of nonviolent direct actions we will continue to escalate our public pressure for change,” Bishop Barber said. “We invite partners and all people who believe in justice and democracy to join us in this critical moment in history to save the soul and the body of this democracy and this nation.”
The partners for the season of action include the National Council of Churches, which has 39 religious denominations among its members, and the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union. Partners also include Black Voters Matter, Forward Justice, the National Welfare Rights Union, Red Letter Christians, Indivisible, Rainbow Push Coalition, the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, the Sunrise Movement and several religious denominations.
Partners who spoke Monday in support of the 140 million poor and low-wealth people in this country and the season of direct action were: Ezra Levin, co-executive director of Indivisible; Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies; Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. Office of Public Witness; Bishop Tavis Grant, national field director for Rainbow PUSH Coalition; Sister Jean Stokan of Sisters of Mercy; Rev. Abhi Janamachi, senior minister of Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda, Maryland, and attorney Barbara Arnwine, president and founder of Transformative Justice Coalition.
A fight for democracy
“We have no illusion,” Ms. Arnwine said. “We have work to be done. John Lewis’ spirit will not rest until we do what is necessary and that is get in the streets, bring the heat. Let’s do it, people. We the people!”
Democracy is at risk right now, Levin said.
“We are showing up with everybody else here over the next several weeks to tell the Speaker of the House, the Senate Majority Leader and the President of the United States to get with us and fight for this democracy,” he said. “We will see you in the streets.”
The Sisters of Mercy joined the first March on Washington, Sister Stokan said.
“We will be with you in the streets,” she said “Our message: political leaders wake up. This is urgent. The time is now. Too many lives have been lost. Way too many more are going to be lost. We urge you: be bold.”
Group demands an end to filibuster
This is no time for compromise on issues as important as voting rights, Bishop Grant said.
“We’re not compromising in ending the filibuster,” he said. “We’re not compromising on passing the For the People Act. We’re not compromising on fully restoring the 1965 Voting Rights Act the way John Lewis wrote it. He wrote it. He is the author. Don’t change his word or spirit. We will not compromise on raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Working people need a living wage.”
The July 12 Moral Monday also included an online program and a call-in to the U.S. Senate offices.
On July 19, 100 women from all over the country will lead the Moral Monday march on the anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, the first women’s rights convention in the U.S. Other Moral Monday programs will be held July 26th in Senate offices in 45 states and on Aug. 2, when clergy and poor and low-wage workers will take to the streets in Washington DC.
“We are drawing from the spirit of the 1848 convention, where 100 people signed their demands. The women taking the demands on the 19th will release our own set of demands – our demands of today. This, however, will be more than a statement; it will be a commitment to the struggle for democracy, equality and an action that will be a reminder for all those who stand on the wrong side of history that you will not and cannot prevail,” said Roz Pelles, vice president of Repairers of the Breach, a co-sponsor of the Poor People’s Campaign.
A call to action
The news conference ended with a call to action from Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, to encourage online viewers to call their senators. Rev. Theoharis also is the director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice, a co-sponsor of the Poor People’s Campaign.
“There is an emergency going on right now — an emergency of our democracy,” she said. “An emergency of poor and low-income people. An emergency where wages are so low and people cannot afford the basic living expenses. Where people are ravaged by storm and climate change. Who is hurt first and worst is always people of color and those marginalized by society. We are taking action together and launching the season of moral fusion direct action.”
Bishop Barber next heads to Austin, Texas, where the Texas Poor People’s Campaign invited him to help mobilize and organize against the voter suppression happening in that legislature.
The Poor People’s Campaign also is supporting a Good Trouble Vigil to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of Rep. John Lewis, who risked his life to secure voting rights. The candlelight vigil will be in 100 locations nationally on Saturday, July 17.
For the full schedule of the Season of Nonviolent Direct Action and where to view and sign the open letter, please visit the website here.