My Turn: Poor People’s Campaign a movement that brings people together


  • Crowd in Washington, D.C. KATE POUSONT SCARBOROUGH


Published: 6/23/2022 1:57:39 PM
Modified: 6/23/2022 1:57:20 PM

On the morning of June 18, 150,000 people converged in downtown Washington D.C. with the Poor People’s Campaign. It was the largest gathering of poor and low-wage workers in the nation’s history. The group included impacted people and allies from every background, as well as hundreds of partner organizations, coming together from across the country to demand equal rights, access to affordable healthcare, a living minimum wage, and safe environments to raise their families. Among them were hundreds of people from Massachusetts, including many Franklin County residents.

The events in D.C. began on the evening of June 17 with a communal dinner and a memorial for the lives lost to poverty and COVID-19 during the pandemic. As participants in D.C. gathered to mourn, I and other local volunteers were making last minute arrangements and gathering supplies for riders at bus stops in five western Massachusetts communities.

As I arrived at the bus stop in downtown Greenfield at midnight, with boxes of food to sustain us on the 24-hour journey, a small group had already assembled. Among them were local housing activist Pamela Goodwin, Steve Hippie of Stone Soup Cafe, Rev. Dan Dibble of the Trinitarian Congregational Church Warwick, and impacted community leader Sarah Ahearn, who aided with rapid response while in D.C. We joined a group of riders from the Vermont Workers Center, and continued on to Springfield, where activist Charlie Holmes was waiting with another group eager to board.

Charlie and I have worked together as a part of the Coordinating Committee with the Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign for over a year, bringing people together from these and surrounding communities to learn about the campaign and to share ideas as we prepared for the June 18 gathering. And this is a big part of what the campaign is about. As we come together to demand justice for the 140 million poor and low-income people in this nation, and to address the interlocking injustices of poverty, systemic racism, militarism, ecological devastation, and the false moral narrative of religious nationalism, we understand that small groups of people working within separate communities will not be enough to overcome the injustices we face.

Instead, we connect over our shared humanity and common needs across all lines of division while also acknowledging the centrality and violence of systemic racism. For years, people have been under attack, pitted against each other, and blamed for society’s problems. But this movement is one that brings people together across race, gender and sexuality, ability, faith, and region to turn our pain, fear, and anger into a united force to reconstruct the nation from the bottom up. And this is exactly what we encountered when our group of riders made our way from the bus to Pennsylvania Avenue.

When speaking with people who attended the event, the words I’ve repeatedly heard are unity, cohesion, and care. It’s not uncommon for large numbers of people to gather in D.C., but it is a rare and beautiful thing to have a large, diverse group such as this gathered with a common purpose and clear demands. We came to communicate these demands, but also to listen and bear witness to the suffering that too often remains hidden or ignored in this nation of abundance.

And listen we did. Over the course of several hours, people impacted by poverty, unjust incarceration, racial violence, and inhumane working conditions stood alongside campaign co-chairs Rev. Dr. William Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. Labor leaders, Indigenous leaders, healthcare workers, military veterans, youth, and clergy stood shoulder to shoulder with speakers Cornel West and Bernice King. They held a mirror to us all, reminding us of our basic obligations to our fellow humans and of the work yet to be done to get there.

As we made our way back to the crowded bus station, resolve hung in the air. We’ve known that this assembly, even on the heels of a season of sustained non-violent direct action, was not an end point but the beginning of something significant. And as we set out on the long journey home, energized and exhausted at once, the group shared some takeaways from the day: step out of your comfort zone; be willing to listen; imagine a world without poverty and racism and don’t stop fighting for it; examine your own role in the injustices we face; be willing to sacrifice for the good of all.

Change is possible, if we commit to doing the hard work together. Will you?

Kate Pousont Scarborough lives in Greenfield and is a coordinating committee member of the Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign and director of Shelburne Falls Yoga. 


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