William Barber
The Rev. William Barber rallies the crowd as the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. (right) listens during the 50th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign on Capitol Hill on May 21. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

Thousands gathered at the U.S. Capitol and at capitol buildings in more than 30 cities across the nation as part of Rev. Dr. William Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign’s 40 days of radical civil disobedience.

Barber, who has seemingly picked up the mantle of civil rights leader and, like others, is inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was joined at the U.S. Capitol with a King disciple, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Jr.

“Fifty years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s original Poor People’s Campaign, its follow-up resurgence involving more than 30 state capitals and D.C., has launched a 40-day period of nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience,” Barber said in a statement on Monday, May 21.

Several events surrounding the campaign, which ends June 21, were slated this week in the District of Columbia.

Modeled on its 1968 predecessor, the new campaign — titled “Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival” — began on May 14 in several venues across the country.

Barber said it focuses on issues such as achieving federal and state living-wage laws as well as welfare programs for the poor, equity in education, Medicaid expansion and accessible housing, said Barber, the president and senior lecturer of “Repairers of the Breach, a nonprofit that seeks to build moral agenda they said is rooted in a framework that uplifts the deepest moral and constitutional values to redeem the heart and soul of the country.

The North Carolina preacher and civil rights leader, who for the past four years has been at the center of it, described its launch as “very powerful.”

He said Americans are living in an impoverished democracy.

“People across the country are standing up against the lie of scarcity. We know that in the richest country in the world, there is no reason for children to go hungry, for the sick to be denied health care and for citizens to have their votes suppressed,” Barber said.

“Both parties have to be challenged — one for what it does and one for what it doesn’t do,” he said.

At state capitols in D.C., Illinois, New York, North Carolina and other locations, dozens of protesters chanted slogans and carried signs reading, “We can no longer allow politicians to blame Black families, the poor and immigrants,” “Poverty is morally wrong,” “We will not be silent” and “This is not a Black thing, this is not a White thing … this is a people thing.”

Demonstrators in the U.S. Capitol entered the building through the visitor’s center but reportedly were prevented from delivering handwritten letters to the speaker of the House.

Jackson and others instead gave impromptu addresses as Capitol police surrounded them and warned them of the possibility of arrest.

Barber and the protesters demanded new programs that they said would help to uplift the approximately 140 million Americans living in poverty.

By 3 p.m. Monday, Barber and Jackson had been issued a “second warning” by police that they would be arrested.

“We plan to be arrested,” Barber said, noting that it’s for the cause of poor people.

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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