History of Poor People’s Campaign
On December 4, 1967 in Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized a Poor People’s Campaign to address issues of economic justice and housing for the poor in the United States; aiming itself at rebuilding America’s cities.
The Poor People’s Campaign did not focus on just poor black people but addressed all poor people. Martin Luther King, Jr. labeled the Poor People’s Campaign the “second phase,” of the Civil Rights struggle – setting goals such as gathering activists to lobby Congress for an “Economic Bill of Rights.”
Dr. King also saw a crying need to confront a Congress that had demonstrated its “hostility to the poor ” – appropriating “military funds with alacrity and generosity,” but providing “poverty funds with miserliness.”
Witnessing the anger that led to riots in Newark (July 12–17, 1967) and Detroit (July 23–27, 1967) King released a report in August (titled “The Crisis in America’s Cities“) which called for disciplined urban disruption, particularly in Washington:
To dislocate the functioning of a city without destroying it can be more effective than a riot because it can be longer-lasting, costly to society but not wantonly destructive. Moreover, it is more difficult for government to quell it by superior force. Mass civil disobedience can use rage as a constructive and creative force. It is purposeless to tell Negroes they should not be enraged when they should be. Indeed, they will be mentally healthier if they do not suppress rage but vent it constructively and use its energy peacefully but forcefully to cripple the operations of an oppressive society. Civil disobedience can utilize the militancy wasted in riots to seize clothes or groceries many did not even want.
Civil disobedience has never been used on a mass scale in the North. It has rarely been seriously organized and resolutely pursued. Too often in the past was it employed incorrectly. It was resorted to only when there was an absence of mass support and its purpose was headline-hunting. The exceptions were the massive school boycotts by Northern Negroes. They shook educational systems to their roots but they lasted only single days and were never repeated. If they are developed as weekly events at the same time that mass sit-ins are developed inside and at the gates of factories for jobs, and if simultaneously thousands of unemployed youth camp in Washington, as the Bonus Marchers did in the thirties, with these and other practices, without burning a match or firing a gun, the impact of the movement will have earthquake proportions. (In the Bonus Marches, it was the government that burned down the marchers’ shelters when it became confounded by peaceful civil disobedience.)
This is not an easy program to implement. Riots are easier just because they need no organization. To have effect we will have to develop mass disciplined forces that can remain excited and determined without dramatic conflagrations.
Under the “economic bill of rights” the Poor People’s Campaign asked for the federal government to prioritize helping the poor with an antipoverty package that included housing and a guaranteed annual income for all Americans.
THE BILL OF RIGHTS FOR THE POOR
All forms of human oppression must be dismantled. All people and especially the poor have the right to pursue life,liberty and happiness without institutional barriers. Racism, sexism, discrimination against disabled people, classicism and imperialism must be addressed and eliminated if the poor are to escape impoverishment.
The poor have a right to a public policy agenda that invests in human beings. Too this end, we are calling for the creation of “Communities of Opportunity” where there has been historic neglect and economic apartheid. These “Communities of Opportunity” should eliminate all forms of economic predators that preclude economic development. Federal, state and local resources should be made available to community groups and efforts that create economic opportunity in these communities. Partnerships between corporate and community based groups that open door of opportunity and invest in the “least of these” should be encouraged and rewarded. Communities of Opportunity will necessitate a comprehensive economic policy on the national, state and local levels which places the interests of people in need over the interests of corporate greed. Government must regulate corporations and end the transfer of jobs out of the country. Legislation must be passed that forbids the closing of plants and business headquarters without a public hearing and insures compensation, retraining and job placement for those who suffer job loss.
One in every six children in America is a victim of poverty. One in three children of color is growing up in poverty. Every child should have access to quality health care, education, and housing and live in a safe community.
All people should have “equal protection under the law” and the poor must be protected from injustice in the legal system. the poor are often warehoused in the nation’s prison industrial complex, which has become the 21 st century’s version of slavery. The poor must be guaranteed competent representation and equal justice. The poor must be assured of justice in civil and criminal courts.
The poor must be protected from state sponsored terrorism in the form of police brutality. The poor have a right to be protected and served, as opposed to being abused and exploited. we call for unequivocal civilian control of our neighborhoods and citizen review boards with the power to discipline police abuse and misconduct. A community partnership for the elimination of crime and violence in poor communities must be established between the police and community based groups.
The poor should have the right to full employment and a guaranteed income that enables them to rise above the poverty level. We call for government investment in community-based and cooperating partnerships that generate jobs. Wherever there are areas of concentrated unemployment there must be a concentrated effort to ring jobs and opportunity.
The poor should not be victimized by inequality of opportunity. Pay equity for women and people of color must be legislated. Women must be legally protected from sexual harassment and abuse on the job and domestic violence.
We believe in the liberation and empowerment of oppressed people all over the world. Dr King maintained that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We demand that the foreign policy of the United States is characterized by justice and freedom. This is a moral bill of rights, rooted in our faith as Christians. The implementation of this bill of rights will move us closer to being “one nation, under god, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
After months of training in the discipline of nonviolence, the Poor People’s Campaign would march on Washington, D.C., erect shanty towns near the White House to make poverty visible, and then begin a campaign of massive sit-ins at federal agencies. King openly declared that his call for massive civil disobedience was aimed at disrupting, and ultimately paralyzing, the functions of the most powerful government on earth, unless and until it granted the Economic Bill of Rights.
King planned to erect shanty towns for tens of thousands of poor people. The shanty towns would make the suffering of economic deprivation so visible that federal legislators—and the public—would be forced to see it all around them in Washington, D.C.
King had developed a strategy to confront the federal government Federal officials and the FBI were frightened by King’s announced intentions to lead a campaign of civil disobedience on a scale that could disrupt the nation’s Capitol, they denounced King with blistering venom. Negative leaks, disinformation, informants and provocateurs were just some the tools used by the government to derail the effort.
But it was not to be. King was murdered on April 4, 1968, just as the Poor People’s Campaign was getting off the ground. Long a prophet, King now became a martyr as well. Rather than the carefully planned civil disobedience that King was organizing, the United States went through riots and civil unrest in over 110 cities following King’s murder.
While the SCLC continued the campaign and got as far as building Resurrection City in Washington D.C., the riots, protests and violent repression that had followed Kings’ assassination had taken non-violent insurrection out of the realm of possibility. While over 7000 people started the encampment in May 1968, and over 50,000 joined in protest marches, the encampment was torn down in late June by police order, the promise of mass civil disobedience unfulfilled.
King had predicted that the Poor People’s Campaign would be a turning point in American history, a chance for the nation to redeem itself from its legacy of poverty, racism, war, and exploitation. Instead, the dreamer is assassinated.
King understood that, it was absolutely necessary to organize the poor, and to say — not just, “America, take care of your poor people” — but to say, “America, find your sense of direction.
Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first legislation protecting black rights since Reconstruction. The act establishes the Civil Rights section of the Justice Department and empowers federal prosecutors to obtain court injunctions against interference with the right to vote. It also creates the federal Civil Rights Commission with the authority to investigate discriminatory conditions and recommend corrective measures. – See more at: http://www.blackpast.org/timelines/african-american-history-Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first legislation protecting black rights since Reconstruction. The act establishes the Civil Rights section of the Justice Department and empowers federal prosecutors to obtain court injunctions against interference with the right to vote. It also creates the federal Civil Rights Commission with the authority to investigate discriminatory conditions and recommend corrective measures. – See more at: http://www.blackpast.org/timelines/african-american-history-timeline-1900-2000#sthash.uWi88PjJ.dpufCongress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first legislation protecting black rights since Reconstruction. The act establishes the Civil Rights section of the Justice Department and empowers federal prosecutors to obtain court injunctions against interference with the right to vote. It also creates the federal Civil Rights Commission with the authority to investigate discriminatory conditions and recommend corrective measures. – See more at: http://www.blackpast.org/timelines/african-american-history-timeline-1900-2000#sthash.uWi88PjJ.dpuf