An idea fifty years in the making that needs to be acted on now…The Poor People’s Campaign

One of the biggest tricks the Trump administration has been able to pull off is pointing to rises in the stock market as evidence that he, at least before COVID-19, created the greatest economy in the history of this country, while it has been great for the Jeff Bezos of the world, the reality is that it couldn’t be further from the truth for the vast majority of Americans. A few telling statistics:

  • In 1980, the 90/10 ratio in the U.S. stood at 9.1, meaning that households at the top had incomes about nine times the incomes of households at the bottom. The ratio increased in every decade since 1980, reaching 12.6 in 2018, an increase of 39%.14. Not only is income inequality rising in the U.S., it is higher than in other advanced economies.
  • The most widely used measure to track homelessness is HUD’s Point in Time (PIT)count, which identified 567,715 homeless people on a single night in January 2019. About 63% of individuals counted were sheltered, and 37% were unsheltered. There are many indications that the actual number of homeless people is much higher. The National Coalition for the Homeless points out that the PIT count largely misses recently homeless individuals staying in supportive housing, paid for with federal and local homelessness funds. In 2017, this population added up to 503,473, pushing the total number of homeless people in the U.S. above 1 million.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. In 2018, an estimated 1 in 9 Americans were food insecure, equating to over 37 million Americans, including more than 11 million children.
  • Among Americans born in the late 1980s, only 44% were in jobs with higher socioeconomic status than their parents when both were age 30. At the same time, 49% had lower status positions, according to Hout, who published a study on millennials in the 2019 Stanford Center on Poverty & Inequality Pathways Magazine.
  • Medical bills were the most significant cause of U.S. bankruptcies. A new study from academic researchers found that 66.5 percent of all bankruptcies were tied to medical issues —either because of high costs for care or time out of work. An estimated 530,000 families turn to bankruptcy each year because of medical problems and bills.

In December 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. announced a plan to bring together poor people from across the country for a new march on Washington. This march was to demand better jobs, better homes, better education—better lives than the ones they were living. Rev. Dr. Ralph Abernathy explained that the intention of the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 was to “dramatize the plight of America’s poor of all races and make very clear that they are sick and tired of waiting for a better life.”

In August of 2020, magnified by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, we are still dealing with many of the same issues that Dr. King addressed with his Poor People’s Campaign. Today our President uses misinformation and lies to convince the masses they are doing better than they are. He devises speeches to tap into the fears and subconscious racism embedded in each of us to keep the masses divided rather than united. Pointing fingers at each other for any economic troubles they encounter, rather than banding together and demanding that economic policies be devised that help not just the wealthy and large corporations but the masses as well. Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson articulated how effective Trump’s game plan could be when he said:

“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

A popular saying for many in the Trump base is that we’re losing our America. But the truth is it was never, for most of them anyway, “their” America. The America they claim they are losing was and has always been the America of the rich white man. Access to the best schools and quality health care. The ability to “legally” manipulate the tax system to shelter money from the ever-increasing taxes they pay. They are consistently increasing their bottom lines at the expense of the average American.

Now let’s be clear here and misunderstand what I am saying. Not every wealthy white man acts this way or that they are inherently evil or solely responsible for many of the ills that the average working American, regardless of color or gender, face on an everyday basis. I am saying that there are a select few who have always had the money and the power to control the narrative. To keep the masses at each other throats, fighting for the scraps thrown their way.

It is incredible how often the poorest of the poor will vote against their self-interest because they have been led to believe it is in their best interest to ensure the wealthy’s well-being. Ensure their well-being because they are told that if they do, one day they will drink from that same prosperous cup as the wealthy. The concept that they are more like that person they have been conditioned to hate than to the wealthy who promote the narrative they feed into is foreign to them.

The truth is Dr. King had it right in 1967, and if he had lived to see his campaign through, he would have been seen as more of a threat to the “establishment’s” way of life than anything he accomplished during the civil rights movement. There is power in numbers and unity. Suppose most Americans put aside their hatred of each other, embraced their similarities, and united in the fight against inequality. In that case, there is no telling what this country could accomplish in eradicating economic inequality—a country with affordable and quality health care and education for all. Wage equality and a tax system that treated the 99% the same as the 1% and maybe as a byproduct of coming together to fight the inequalities we all face, we’ll gain a better understanding of each other. Now that’s a dream worth fighting for.

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