Poor People’s Campaign pushes for ‘3rd Reconstruction’ in America

Rev. Dr. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign speaks during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol May 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Poor People’s Campaign held the news conference to call for a congressional resolution "to address poverty and low wages." | Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Rev. William Barber and Democratic members of Congress unveiled a resolution Wednesday calling for a “Third Reconstruction” to tackle poverty and the effects of low wages across the country.

“This is the real question — what is the cost of inequality,” Barber said at a Washington news conference.

The resolution aims to achieve a variety of ambitious goals, including expanding voting rights and implementing immigration law changes, while prioritizing the needs of America’s 140 million poor people. It also updates the standards used to measure poverty to reflect what it takes to achieve a decent standard of living and calls for raising the minimum wage and granting paid family and medical leave for all workers. And it include a federal jobs program that prioritizes low income communities and redirects spending from the military and prisons to invest in these policies.

“This is a moral issue rooted in the commitments of our Constitution that the first thing we had to do is establish justice, promote the general welfare, and to ensure equal protection under the law,” Barber said. He was joined by several elected officials, including U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who invited their colleagues to co-sponsor the Third Reconstruction resolution.

“This pandemic has exposed the toll of long-standing interlocking inequities stemming from structural racism, poverty, economic inequality, ecological devastation, and many more systemic barriers keeping people living on the edge,” Lee said. “140 million people are poor, or are one health care crisis, job loss or emergency away from economic devastation.”

Jayapal pointed to bloated military spending, a reluctance to accept a $15 minimum wage, tax avoidance by large corporations and other factors as compounding the burden on America’s working poor.

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“Let me be clear, we allow poverty when we take no action to eradicate it,” she said.

During 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic brought into focus systemic barriers, from access to health care, to whether people can work from home or work at all. Meanwhile, the wealthiest citizens and big companies continued to increase their own wealth. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, for instance, saw his net worth increase by $13 billion, Forbes reported.

Although President Joe Biden has expressed support for raising corporate tax rates, some progressive lawmakers say the measures are not enough.

Barber, through his Poor People’s Campaign, has connected with Americans living in poverty across the country.

Over the past three years, the Poor People’s Campaign has developed a network across 45 states that includes over 2,000 faith leaders and 300 partner organizations. In addition to pushing the Third Reconstruction resolution, the group is building toward a National Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers Assembly on June 21. A 365-day nationwide campaign will follow, ultimately leading to a Mass Poor Peoples and Low-Wage Workers Assembly and Moral March on Washington in June 2022.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Advance‘s sister publication, the Wisconsin Examiner, which is part of States Newsroom.