More than 50 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a new generation of organizers along with some veterans of the sixties are reviving the movement that King started to fight for economic and human rights for the nation’s poor.
That movement, the Poor People’s Campaign, A National Call for Moral Revival, will host an informational and old fashioned mass meeting at 2 p.m. Saturday at the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 200 S. Sixth St. in Richmond. The theme is “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Us Around.”
The goal is to change the moral narrative about this nation’s systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and environmental degradation.
“We are picking up on Dr. King’s focus,” said Bob Hunter, former Earlham College adjunct professor and former chairman of the defunded Richmond Human Rights Commission. “Today, it’s a national call for a moral revival. We are saying that these are a moral issues; that poverty and the way people are treated in this country is a moral issue.”
Hunter is one of three campaign co-chairpersons in Indiana. The plan, Hunter said, is to mobilize hundreds of people in the state to challenge the status quo and change the narrative.
“We will be making a series of actions at the state capitol that will challenge the way this country has dealt with these issues,” Hunter said. “Our first actions will focus on challenging the state to protect women and children since poverty strikes particularly hard on women and children.”
The Poor People’s Campaign was started by Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967 and culminated with an encampment in Washington in June 1968. Unfortunately, Dr. King was assassinated in April 1968 and, coupled with the assassination of Robert Kennedy, a key proponent of the campaign and presidential candidate, that movement never reached its goals of better housing, better education, better jobs and better lives for all peoples living in poverty.
So why the re-emergence today?
“Poverty is clearly growing and inequality is of particular concern,” Hunter said. “You have over half of the resources in the nation concentrated in the hands of about eight families. When you have that as a nation something has gone terribly wrong in an economic system that has built that much inequality.
“Couple that with the increases in racism and especially the increase in racist acts under this (national) administration, more and more we are seeing the degeneration of 50 years of work that the civil rights movement and other justice groups brought to the country,” he said.
Hunter said the national effort is being organized in approximately 41 states with a goal of activating hundreds of thousand citizens.
“We will have direct action singing and various messages of challenge to the way our country and this state are treating many of its neighbors and citizens. The actions are designed to bring people together in moral challenge.
“Our movement is committed to non-violence, but we are actually going to challenge the power of our country’s distorted moral narrative,” he said.
The protests will begin in May. The movement is led by faith leaders and leaders from the affected communities.
Hunter said Saturday’s rally will also address gun violence in solidarity with recent student protests and in keeping with the Poor Peoples Campaign’s original challenge to militarism and the war economy.
The need for change is real in Indiana, he said, pointing to the resignation letter of Mary Beth Bonatentura, former executive director of the Indiana Department of Child Services.
Bonatentura resigned in December 2017 with a scathing letter to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb in which she said that Hoosier children were being systematically placed at risk without her office’s ability to help them.
“I feel I am unable to protect children because of the position taken by your staff to cut funding and services to children in the midst of the opioid crisis. I choose to resign rather than be complicit in decreasing the safety, permanency and well being of children who have nowhere else to turn,” Bonaventura wrote.
“What’s wrong with our state and our country when they will not designate money to protect our children and protect our citizens,” Hunter said.
Hunter said Saturday’s rally will mark the beginning for Richmond in the effort to raise awareness and challenge the legislatures in multiple states, including Indiana.
“I’m an optimist and I believe we can make a difference,” Hunter said. “We want justice for poor people. We are not trying to be nasty and shut things down. We are just trying to demand that our government take care of its citizens, especially its children.”