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Poor People's Campaign: A Struggle Rising From the Streets

Fast-food workers march outside McDonald's headquarters in Chicago as part of 40 days of action planned by the Poor People's Campaign. (Michael Nigro / Truthdig)

Editor’s note: Truthdig has launched a reader-funded project to document the Poor People’s Campaign. Please help us provide firsthand accounts of this activism by making a donation.

The second week of the Poor People’s Campaign has kicked off in Chicago,  where the theme of the week is “Linking Systemic Racism and Poverty: Voting Rights, Immigration, Xenophobia, Islamophobia, and the Mistreatment of Indigenous Communities.”

Truthdig reported from the front lines as thousands of activists and civil rights advocates gathered in Washington, D.C., last week for the Poor People’s Campaign, an effort to relaunch Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight against poverty, war and income inequality. May 14 was the first of 40 days of action planned across the nation. The campaign’s goals include federal and state living-wage laws, an end to anti-union and anti-workers’ rights efforts, welfare programs for the poor, equity in education, Medicaid expansion and accessible housing.

See Truthdig’s multimedia coverage of the action, read Truthdig photojournalist Michael Nigro’s piece about the movement and view his 18-minute audio photo essay.

With funding support from our readers, Nigro is reporting live from the first day of action this week. Scroll down to see Truthdig’s live multimedia updates.

4:38 p.m. CDT: One of the most interesting things about the Poor People’s Campaign so far has been the police response, or lack of response. The police are not arresting people, even though many of the acts of civil disobedience—sitting in a state capitol building, for example—are arrestable actions.

The police non-action appears to be a coordinated tactic. Arrests give people motivation and momentum. Arrests bring more media coverage. More exposure can turn a campaign into a movement. Not arresting people defuses the power of protest.

The corporate state does not want the Poor People’s Campaign to turn into a major political force. The state does not want the voices of 140 million poor people to be heard and would like extinguish every last ember of this activism.

We have a battle of wills. Whichever side prevails will determine how much America changes.

4:15 p.m. CDT: Terrance Wise, one of the organizers with Fight for $15, sums up the meaning of Monday’s action in Chicago and Springfield, Ill.: “All labor has dignity, whether you are a worker at McDonald’s or a sanitation worker.”

Wise, who works at McDonald’s and Burger King to make ends meet, adds that McDonald’s (and every corporation making millions because of its workers) can pay their workers better. Fifteen dollars won’t make people rich, but it will allow them to have a living wage and take their kids to a movie or the zoo.

This protest is not the beginning, middle or end. It is an ongoing struggle.

Remember the words of Frederick Douglass: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. … This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

The Poor People’s Campaign gives the 140 million Americans living in poverty hope.

4:02 p.m. CDT: This video explains why Michael Nigro is in Chicago today, documenting the Poor People’s Campaign and the Fight for $15.

Please support independent media and Truthdig’s reader-funded project. Click here to give now, so we can stay on the front lines of the Poor People’s Campaign and keep documenting this important movement for you.


3:12 p.m. CDT: About 500 to 600 people are in the Illinois state Capitol, chanting as one. These are some of the chants.

Ain’t no power like the power of the people ’cause the power of the people don’t stop.

Which side are you on?

We demand justice.

Everybody’s got a right to live.

We are the workers. The mighty, mighty workers. Fighting for $15. Fighting for a union.

Hold them burgers. Hold those fries. Make my wages supersized.

Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.

We work, we sweat, for $15 on our check.

3:15 p.m. CDT: Poor People’s Campaign and Fight for $15 workers occupy the Illinois state Capitol.

“Do you think God loves rich people more than poor people? Do you think God loves white people more than poor people? Hell no,” said one of the speakers.

Watch all of the live stream from the Illinois state Capitol below.

1:51 p.m. CDT: After a morning action at the McDonald’s headquarters in Chicago, busloads of the Poor People’s Campaign and Fight for $15 workers are headed to the Illinois state Capitol to kick off a second week of direct action. Truthdig will begin live streaming the protest around 3 p.m. CDT. Join in your area.


1:38 p.m. CDT: ​Between 1973 and 2016, hourly compensation increased just 12.3 percent, while productivity increased 73.7 percent.


1:08 p.m. CDT: ​In 2016, there was no state or county in the U.S. where an individual earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour could afford a two-bedroom apartment at market rate.


12:59 p.m. CDT: Poverty is violence. It destroys families and lives. There’s no reason it needs to exist. The Pentagon reported $21 trillion of unaccounted-for expenses.


Greed, contrary to what Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) said in “Wall Street,” is not good.

Racism—one reason for America’s greed—is one of the evils the Poor People’s Campaign is protesting in Chicago at the new McDonald’s headquarters at 110 North Carpenter St.

12:34 p.m. CDT: The goal of the Poor People’s Campaign is to finish what Martin Luther King Jr. started. It is a continuation of King’s work—before his assassination in 1968—reigniting the effort led by civil rights organizations, labor and tenant unions, farmworkers, Native American elders and grass-roots organizers.

Today’s Poor People’s Campaign is not a matter of left or right. This is not a matter of Democrat or Republican. This is not a matter of conservative or liberal. This is a matter of right and wrong.

For a refresher on King’s work, watch this 1963 interview, produced by the United States Information Agency. The discussion was not broadcast for American audiences until 12 years after the rest of the world saw it, because USIA programs were restricted by law from airing in the United States until a dozen years after production.

King was ahead of his time. The problems he sought to solve persist. In fact, they have gotten worse in some cases. These challenges, however, are not insurmountable. But time is running out. That is why the Poor People’s Campaign matters and needs the support of anyone who wants to make our world better and create a more fair and just society for future generations.

To put King’s actions into the context of current events, here are some Truthdig Originals to read.

James Baldwin and the Meaning of Whiteness, Chris Hedges

Martin Luther King’s Revolutionary Dream Deferred, Maj. Danny Sjursen

What Would Martin Luther King Do?, Ron Young

Peace First, Eric Ortiz

12:10 p.m. CDT: Some people are skeptical about the Poor People’s Campaign. They believe the movement will be co-opted by political forces and not lead to any real change. But unlike previous resistance movements that may have been “more show than go,” the Poor People’s Campaign is putting demands behind its civil disobedient actions.

How do you think McDonald’s will respond to the demands from Fight for $15 and the Poor People’s Campaign for living wages for workers?


How do you think McDonald’s will respond to the letter from Fight for 15 and the Poor People’s Campaign?

Take positive action to address their concerns and increase wages for McDonald’s workers.
Take no action to address their concerns and maintain the same wages for McDonald’s workers.
Take punitive action against McDonald’s workers affiliated with the Fight for 15 and Poor People’s Campaign.
Created with PollMaker

11:54 a.m. CDT: Correction: An earlier post of the live blog included an old version of the letter Fight for $15 and the Poor People’s Campaign drafted to send to McDonald’s executives. The version of the letter that was sent to McDonald’s executives can be read below.

10:55 a.m. CDT: The Guardian published a new piece Monday about the Poor People’s Campaign.

Frustrated by conservative Christians’ focus on culture wars over issues such as abortion and gay marriage, [the Rev. William] Barber leads an ascendent grassroots movement that is trying to turn the national conversation to what they believe are the core teachings of the Bible: care for the poor, heal the sick, welcome the stranger.

The Poor People’s Campaign, a revival of Martin Luther King’s final effort to unite poor Americans across racial lines, last week brought together activists from several faiths, the Women’s March, the labor movement and other liberal organizations to launch 40 days of civil disobedience and protest against inequality, racism, ecological devastation and militarism. As many as 1,000 people were arrested during the first wave. More expect to be held in future.

Barber, a co-chair of the campaign, says some conservative faith leaders have “cynically” interpreted the Bible’s teachings to demonize homosexuality, abortion, scientific facts and other religions. They are guilty, he says, of “theological malpractice” and “modern-day heresy”.  … The demands of the Poor People’s Campaign are as ambitious as they are progressive. They have called for a repeal of the Republican tax cuts, federal and state minimum wage laws and universal single-payer healthcare. Other proposals also mirror those of politicians like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

“We are surely trying to impact politics,” said Liz Theoharis, a co-chair. “And we are surely trying to make sure that our elected officials take these issues seriously. But this goes far beyond any one election or election year.”

Read more.

10:46 a.m. CDT: Demonstrators give an enlarged version of their letter of demands to security officers at McDonald’s headquarters in Chicago. To see the full letter, read our earlier posts.

10:35 a.m. CDT: The protest for fair wages continues outside McDonald’s headquarters in Chicago.

10:15 a.m. CDT: Activists link white supremacy to corporate greed in a letter addressed to McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook:

10:05 a.m. CDT: Nigro joined the Poor People’s Campaign and Fight for $15 movement as participants demonstrated outside fast-food giant McDonald’s headquarters in rainy Chicago. Watch the two-part clip below.

Michael Nigro
Michael Nigro is a leading photojournalist for Truthdig, known for his reporting from deep within major events. He was “on the ground” for the website at the infamous protest in Charlottesville, Va., when…
Michael Nigro

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