Michigan Poor People’s Campaign pushes back against GOP voter restrictions 

Priorities include health care for all, $15 minimum wage

Michigan Poor People’s Campaign photo

In a throwback moment reminiscent of the heyday of the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and ‘60s, a group of Lansing demonstrators on Monday sang the anthem, “We Shall Not Be Moved,” at the Michigan Capitol and pushed back against GOP-led efforts to enact “anti-voter, anti-democracy restrictions.”

It was part of a national Poor People’s Campaign effort scheduled in 30 states and the District of Columbia. 

“While the COVID bill is helpful, it doesn’t take care of everything that we need,” said LaShawn Erby, a spokeswoman for the Metro Lansing chapter of the Michigan Poor People’s Campaign, referring to the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief legislation signed last week by President Biden. “There are so many people who still lack the things that they need. Our answer is a total change in policy.”

Voting rights are a big focus for the campaign, as Republicans in states like Arizona and Georgia are queuing up voter restriction legislation after Biden won there in 2020. 

“Republicans have reacted to last year’s record high participation by Black and Brown voters across the state with racist voter suppression laws that are the 21st Century equivalent of Jim Crow, segregationist laws from the pre-civil rights area. Instead, lawmakers of conscience must work to expand and ensure access to the ballot if they truly believe in democracy,” reads a statement from the national organization. “House Democrats passed sweeping voting and ethics legislation over unanimous Republican opposition, advancing to the Senate what would be the largest overhaul of the U.S. election law in at least a generation.”

6 Michigan Republicans vote against sweeping voting rights package that passes U.S. House

Michigan voters in 2018 passed a sweeping voter rights constitutional amendment, which allows for no-reason absentee voting, same-day voter registration, straight-ticket voting and more.

The Democratic-led U.S. House this term passed H.R. 1, which would restrict partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, strike down hurdles to voting and bring transparency to the federal campaign finance system that allows wealthy donors to anonymously bankroll political causes.

However, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said the legislation is “exactly the wrong response” to what he called the “distressing lack of faith in our elections.” He has argued that Democrats want to use their “temporary power” to “try to ensure they’ll never have to relinquish it.” The U.S. Senate has not acted on the measure. 

Meanwhile, the GOP-led Michigan Senate on Thursday approved a resolution urging Congress and Biden to oppose the effort. The measure was sponsored by state Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Holly), a former Michigan secretary of state.

Johnson argued that H.R. 1 measure would “override many important election protections, such as cross checking new voters to ensure they aren’t voting twice and deterring fraud by removing from the voter lists citizens who have died or moved.”

“This legislation strips the ability of states to require reasonable identification standards for voters,” Johnson said through a statement. “It also takes away important tools to ensure clean voter rolls by prohibiting the use of the interstate crosscheck system we currently use to identify individuals who may have moved to another state. H.R. 1 erodes the sanctity of state election processes designed to ensure citizens have the right to participate in elections that are safe, secure and fair.”

Barber calls on Trump, U.S. Senate to back Poor People’s Campaign

As part of its ongoing “Moral Monday” campaign and consistent with its broader national “Poor People’s Jubilee Platform” message, the Lansing group issued a set of 14 demands for the 117th Congress to enact within the first 100 days of 2021. The national effort is co-chaired by the Revs. William J. Barber II and Liz Theoharis. 

 The group’s priorities are: 

  • Enact comprehensive COVID-19 relief that provides free testing, treatment, vaccines and direct payments to the poor
  • Guarantee quality health care for all, regardless of any pre-existing conditions
  • Raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour immediately
  • Update the poverty threshold 
  • Guarantee quality housing for all
  • Enact a federal jobs program to build up investments, infrastructure, public institutions, climate resilience, energy efficiency and socially beneficial industries and jobs in poor and low-income communities
  • Protect and expand voting rights and civil rights
  • Guarantee safe, quality and equitable public education, with supports for protection against re-segregation
  • Comprehensive and just immigration reform
  • Ensure rights for indigenous people
  • Enact fair taxes and targeted tax credits
  • Use the power of executive orders
  • Redirect the “bloated” Pentagon Budget toward these priorities as matters of national security
  • Work with the Poor People’s Campaign to establish a permanent Presidential Council to advocate for the agenda
Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.