Staff Columnist

Time to take a stand on poverty

A Coe College student listens to speakers during a march and demonstration in support of DACA recipients and other immigrants in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
A Coe College student listens to speakers during a march and demonstration in support of DACA recipients and other immigrants in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Ten people were cited at the Iowa Capitol on Monday for refusing to leave the governor’s office when the building was about to close. It was the first of many acts of civil disobedience aimed to draw headlines and attention to poverty.

The Iowa incident was one of many throughout the country that led to hundreds of citations and arrests. They all were completed as part of a relaunched Poor People’s Campaign — a nod to Martin Luther King Jr.’s visions for the War on Poverty from 50 years ago.

And, frankly, this is a movement that is long overdue.

“We’re living in an impoverished democracy,” said Rev. William Barber, a Protestant pastor, co-chairman of the movement and one of those arrested Monday.

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

Barber, as well as co-chairwoman Rev. Liz Theoharis, were detained for standing in a street, which was one of many disobedient but peaceful demonstrations expected to kick off 40 days of action. The number of arrests and citations already issued signal the relaunch of the campaign will remain as controversial as the original movement.

In 1968, King’s Poor People’s Campaign was intended to spark national conversations beyond the injustices of the Jim Crow era, to encompass the overall indignities of poverty that are not limited to race. King was berated by the full political spectrum for this undertaking, many believing he should continue to concentrate his efforts on race-related inequality.

But King knew differently; he inherently understood systemic failures were at the root of inequality and a massive uprising of all affected people was required to raise awareness and begin the process of change. Unfortunately, King wasn’t allowed to live long enough to realize this vision.

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Instead, weeks after King was assassinated, more than 3,000 poor Americans descended on Washington, D.C., to construct a makeshift village known as “Resurrection City” on the National Mall. A diverse cross-section of people ­— some of the poorest in the nation — lived there for 42 days in an attempt to bring more awareness to the blight of poverty. The shantytown would have existed longer, but it was removed by force.

Without the leadership of King, the movement faltered and is rarely remembered as part of the turbulent year of 1968. Without the movement, poverty in America has been allowed to fester, with more than double the number of people affected now (41 million) than 50 years ago, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Organizers of the revived Poor People’s Campaign say the true number is six times larger, roughly 140 million people, if we include those surviving paycheck-to-paycheck.

People in Iowa, and throughout the nation, are standing up to say either number is unacceptable. I proudly stand with them, and hope you will as well.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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