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Poor People’s March on Washington Saturday Demands “Moral Reset” on Poverty, Voting Rights, Climate

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We speak with Bishop William Barber and Reverend Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign, about plans for Saturday’s Moral March on Washington and to the Polls to demand the government address key issues facing poor and low-income communities. The march will bring together thousands of people from diverse backgrounds to speak out against the country’s rising poverty rates, voter suppression in low-income communities and more. “To have this level of poverty that’s untalked about too often … is actually morally indefensible, constitutionally inconsistent, politically insensitive and economically insane,” says Barber. Theoharis says the lack of universal healthcare in the U.S. is a major source of economic insecurity and has contributed to the COVID-19 death toll. She asks how a rich country “that spends more money on healthcare than any other nation with a comparable economy still has [these] kind of poor health outcomes.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

As the United States experiences its worst inflation in decades with skyrocketing food, gas and energy prices, we end today’s show in Washington, D.C., where the Poor People’s Campaign has organized a massive Moral March on Washington Saturday. The demonstration is being led by low-income people and workers demanding access to stable housing, healthcare, living wages, gun control, and reproductive and voting rights.

For more, we’re joined in Washington, D.C., by Bishop Dr. William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, president of Repairers of the Breach. We also hope to speak with Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.

Bishop Barber, welcome back to Democracy Now! If you can talk about what you’re doing in Washington? As inside the Capitol there is this epic historic hearing around the previous president’s attempted coup, the man who would not let go of power but was forced to in the end, I’m wondering if you could contrast what we’re seeing exposed there with what you’re doing this weekend.

BISHOP WILLIAM BARBER II: Well, thank you, Amy.

We are not the insurrection. We are the resurrection, and a resurrection of thousands, of every race and creed and color and kind and geography, who are coming nonviolently to Washington, D.C., from all across this great land, to say that the 140 million poor and low-wealth people in this country, 43% of this nation, 52% of the children, 68% — 60% of Black people, 33% of — 30% of white people, 68% of Latinos, and so forth and so on, 87 million people who are uninsured or underinsured, 32 million people that get up every morning and work jobs that do not pay a living wage, less than $15 an hour — we won’t be silent or unseen anymore.

The time has come for us to have a Third Reconstruction. We had one in the 1800s, one in the 1960s. We need one now, that’s about policy, reconstructing a moral framework, political framework in this country, because to have this level of poverty, that’s un-talked-about too often and unseen and unheard, is actually morally indefensible, constitutionally inconsistent, politically insensitive and economically insane. So people are coming. But poor people are coming to say not only do we need a moral reset — and low-wage workers are saying it — we represent 32% of the electorate now, poor people do, and 45% of the electorate in battleground states. And it’s time for that power to be organized, mobilized and felt in every election throughout this country.

Now, when we look at what you see in these hearings, we have to ask the question, I think: Why were Trumpism or Trump and his team fighting to hold onto power? Why wouldn’t McConnell and them impeach him when they had a chance? I believe, Amy, and we believe, this isn’t just about personality, but policy. We’re witnessing a crisis of democracy, because some of the people who didn’t go along with Trump in this and didn’t go along with Eastman’s scheme still took the time to see if it was right, if there was a way they could do it. They still voted 99% of the time for Trump’s policies of extremism. And they still believe in a political policy coup d’état to suppress the vote, to rob the government of its resources by giving tax cuts to the wealthiest and to the greediest and the corporate interests, that disempowers the government from doing the things it needs to do for the least and the left-out and the workers and women. They are still the group that wants to take — to have a political coup d’état and take women’s rights to their own body. They’re still the group that wants to block living wages, block healthcare, block addressing climate change, block police violence. And all of these policies produce a policy murder. And we found out just this week that the denial of universal healthcare during COVID, for instance, has cost 330,000 lives. We found out, because of Trump and his allies’ policies in the beginning of COVID, poor people died at a rate of two to five times higher than anyone else in this country.

So, we are the contrast. What you saw January 6th was the insurrection. What you see on Saturday is a resurrection. It’s a resurrection of people coming together, the Mass Poor People’s, Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March to the Polls. And we are calling on people to still join us at Third and Pennsylvania at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Liz Theoharis is also with us, the Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis, who is co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and president — also executive director of the Kairos Center at Union Theological Seminary.

Liz, welcome back to Democracy Now! If you could talk about the significance of this march, and this coming at a time where a Yale study just came out saying that something like 338,000 people who died of COVID-19 during the pandemic in the United States — a third of the people — died unnecessarily, could have been saved if the U.S. had Medicare for All? Can you talk about how healthcare is a basic right, as one of the tenets of what people are calling for in Washington?

REV. LIZ THEOHARIS: Well, thanks so much, Amy, and it is great to be back.

And as Bishop Barber said, and as you just referenced, this study came out this week that says that, yeah, a third of the people who did not have healthcare would not have died from this pandemic. What we in the Poor People’s Campaign have been putting out, and we did a study with Jeffrey Sachs and with folks over at Columbia University that showed that between two and five times the number of poor people from poor communities died from the pandemic than richer communities and richer people. And again, this is because of these underlying issues of health inequality, of poverty, of low wages.

And so, indeed, when we gather on Pennsylvania Avenue on Saturday and we hear the voices, the stories, but also the solutions coming out of poor and low-income people’s experience and lives, we will surely hear about the need for healthcare. As Bishop Barber has said, we need healthcare to be connected to people’s bodies, not to their jobs. And how is it, in this rich nation, that spends more money on healthcare than any other nation with a comparable economy, still has the kind of poor health outcomes, still has 87 million people who before the pandemic were uninsured or underinsured, and even some more who have — you know, tens of thousands who have lost their healthcare coverage in the worst public health crisis in generations?

And again, this just does not have to be. It actually — you know, we could spend less on healthcare and lead healthier lives, and everyone could have universal coverage. We need to expand Medicaid, but we also need to implement a single-payer universal healthcare system. And again, this will lift society from the bottom.

And so, this and then the cry and demand for living-wage jobs, for adequate housing, for immigration reform, for protecting this democracy, they’re all connected. And we see the interconnections, the intersections of the denial of healthcare, the destruction of our environment, the militarization of our communities, and the problems of poverty and low wages that are infecting almost half of the population, and, therefore, bringing this impoverished democracy to a real crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: Liz Theoharis, you’ve also said that declaring war is a declaration of war on the poor. Explain.

REV. LIZ THEOHARIS: So, you know, that actually comes from Dr. King and from many that have come before. But Dr. King, you know, when he comes out against the Vietnam War all those years ago, says that war, in all its form, is a war on the poor, and it’s cruel manipulation of the poor.

And we’re seeing this today. I mean, we don’t have a draft in this country, but we have a poverty draft. And 22 veterans commit suicide every day in this country because of the moral costs of war. And if we look at our military budget, 53 cents of every discretionary dollar goes to the military. We can’t even spend 15 cents on healthcare and living-wage jobs and investments in our children and in anti-poverty programs combined. You know, this disproportionately impacts poor people. And that’s poor people in the United States, and that’s poor people across the world. As Dr. King said, you know, you have poor people come together from this rich nation to go and kill poor people across the world. And we’re seeing this, you know, across the world in this moment, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Bishop Barber, this is Pride Month, and there have been serious attacks or attempted attacks, from Coeur d’Alene to the Bay Area. You had Patriot Front in Coeur d’Alene, a small army stopped by police before they attacked a Pride march. Can you talk about the far right and the white supremacists using Christianity to justify what they’re doing?

BISHOP WILLIAM BARBER II: Well, I don’t call them “right.” I never use the term “far right” and “far left.” I think those terms are problematic. And one of the things the Poor People’s Campaign is saying is we need to have a moral conversation about right versus wrong, constitutional versus unconstitutional. And that’s part of our problem.

The reality is that that’s heresy. Any time you use religion to justify violence against gay people, against women, against the poor, against any segment of a community, when you use it to suppress the vote, when you use religion to try to block living wages and healthcare, it is exactly wrong. One of the reasons it’s wrong from a moral and a religious standpoint is because those become the policies of death. You know, every piece of regressive policy costs lives. When you deny healthcare, it costs lives. When you attack LGBT communities, you cost lives. When you allow guns to flourish in the society, people to walk around with AK-47s, you cost lives. When you block living wages and people moving up out of poverty — we knew that, even before COVID hit, poor people were dying at a rate of 700 people a day, nearly 30 people an hour per day, 250,000 a year, from the effects of poverty. That is contrary to the biblical call to life. It is contrary to the call of the ancient prophets that says, “Woe unto those who legislate evil and rob the poor of their rights and make women and children their prey” — P-R-E-Y. It’s contrary to the call of Jesus, that we’re supposed to be about life and good news to the poor. And it’s contrary to the Declaration of Independence, that we are supposed to be about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and contrary to the Constitution promise to establish justice and equal protection under the law.

We are a movement of life, though. What we are saying is — and on Saturday, we are having Black people, white people, Brown people, Asian people, Native people, gay people, straight people, Republicans, Democrats, veterans, nonveterans. These are the voices you will hear, poor and impacted people, on the stage. It’s not a march and a rally and an assembly, really, for [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.

BISHOP WILLIAM BARBER II: — for people to come and talk for people. People will talk for themselves. We are the resurrection and not the insurrection.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you both so much for being with us, Bishop Dr. William Barber and Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign, holding the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington on Saturday.

Oh, and, Liz, I also want to congratulate your sister Jeanne Theoharis. The film The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, based on Jeanne’s best-selling book by the same title, just premiered last night at the Tribeca Film Festival, directed by our former Democracy Now! producer Yoruba Richen, as well as Johanna Hamilton. It is fantastic, not to be missed by anyone. It was at the Tribeca Film Festival.

And that does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Camille Baker, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Mary Conlon.

On Monday, a Juneteenth special — don’t miss it — on Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Stay safe.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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