By: Melissa Lee
In 1968, AFSC answered the call from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to endorse and support the Poor People’s Campaign, which mobilized people across the country to demand economic justice. Barbara Moffett, director of AFSC’s National Community Relations Division, worked directly with Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to create the campaign’s platform and strategy. Following Dr. King’s assassination, AFSC urged other religious organizations to sign on to the campaign and come to Washington, D.C. for two weeks of protest, including setting up an encampment known as “Resurrection City.”
Today—50 years later—AFSC has endorsed the new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, a mass mobilization led by poor and working-class people to challenge poverty, racism, militarism, and ecological devastation. This spring, AFSC staff and supporters engaged in 40 days of nonviolent direct action—facing arrest—at state capitol buildings and in Washington, D.C. Together, we demonstrated against military spending—and called for investing in human needs. We pushed back against criminalizing the poor and communities of color.
The Poor People’s Campaign is one example of AFSC’s long commitment to social change movements in critical times.
Here’s a look back at the Poor People’s Campaign then and today. ■
On Mother’s Day, thousands of demonstrators led by Coretta Scott King demanded an Economic Bill of Rights. Throughout the month of May, caravans of people from across the country—including California, Washington, Alabama, and Mississippi—converged on Washington, D.C. for the campaign. Photo: U.S. News & World Report
Protesters gather in Lafayette Park, across from the White House. During planning for the campaign in 1967, Dr. King said: “Our government does not move to correct a problem involving race until it is confronted directly and dramatically. ...What we need is a new kind of Selma or Birmingham to dramatize the economic plight of the Negro, and compel the government to act.” Photo: Bill Wingell
An estimated 3,000 people lived at “Resurrection City,” a protest camp on the Washington Mall that lasted for six weeks. Dr. King wrote: “A pilgrimage of the poor will gather in Washington from the slums and rural starvation regions of the nation. We will go there, will demand to be heard, and we will stay until America responds.” Photo: Bill Wingel
A brochure from the Poor People’s Campaign reads: “Why are people poor? Poor people are kept in poverty because they are kept from power. We must create poor people’s power.” Credit: AFSC archives
In Washington, D.C. and around the country, AFSC staff and supporters took part in weekly protests and acts of civil disobedience. Several AFSC staff and supporters were arrested, including Arnie Alpert, Laura Boyce, Lucy Duncan, Jacob Flowers, Joseph Gerson, and Brant Rosen. Photo: Carl Roose/AFSC
Hundreds of people rallied at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, hearing from people directly affected by systemic racism and poverty. After the rally, people occupied the office of Gov. Kim Reynolds, demanding the state’s leaders listen to the people. Photo: Jon Krieg/AFSC
AFSC staff and supporters took part in weekly actions in Concord, New Hampshire. “The point of the Poor People’s Campaign is to recast our nation’s politics in a moral framework,” says Arnie Alpert, co-director of AFSC’s New Hampshire program. “Fifty years after the first Poor People’s Campaign, it is well past time to tend to our spiritual health by changing our nation’s priorities.” Photo: Becky Field/FieldWork Photos
Keith Harvey, AFSC Northeast regional director, spoke at an action on Boston Common on Memorial Day weekend. The event drew attention to veteran homelessness and the devastating effects of the U.S. war economy. Photo: Philip Czachorowski
For more on the campaign: visit: afsc.org/poorpeoplescampaign