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Bidenomics and the American Death Sentence of Poverty

ColumnJune 29, 2023
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By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan

President Joe Biden has embraced the term “Bidenomics,” despite its origins as attempted disparagement from pundits in the fever swamps of Fox News, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages and other MAGA sinkholes. Biden invoked “Bidenomics” in an address he gave Wednesday, happily taking credit for the state of the economy. In his opening remarks, he referenced the great American poet Carl Sandburg’s 1916 description of Chicago as the “City of the Big Shoulders,” in praise of the region’s muscular workforce. While recent economic numbers may give Biden reason to wax poetic, they also mask the suffering of millions of Americans shackled by poverty.

“Poverty is America’s death sentence, and we won’t be silent anymore,” Bishop William Barber intoned as he opened the Poor People’s Campaign Moral Poverty Action Congress on June 19th in Washington, DC. Barber had just retired after 30 years as the activist Pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina. After leading historic Moral Monday marches on the North Carolina legislature in 2013, he went on to co-found the Poor People’s Campaign, which borrows its name from the organizing drive launched by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 – cut short by King’s assassination. Barber, whose deep voice and rhetorical style is often compared to King’s, is calling for a “Third Reconstruction,” to build political power for and improve the lives of poor and low-wealth people.

The first reconstruction followed the U.S. Civil War, from 1865 until 1877, when federal troops were pulled out of the former Confederate states, ushering in a century of white supremacist terrorism and oppression, aided by the Ku Klux Klan. The second reconstruction occurred in the 1950s and 1960s, with the gains achieved by the civil rights movement.

Working with Democratic Congresswomen Barbara Lee of California and Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, Barber is promoting their House Resolution 532: “Third Reconstruction: Fully addressing poverty and low wages from the bottom up.”

“Here are 20 policies,” Barber said on the Democracy Now! news hour. “Does the Congress have the resolve — not a Democratic resolve or Republican resolve, but a human resolve, a moral resolve — to eradicate poverty and other systems of injustice, which can be done? This death is unnecessary. It is policy murder.”

Central to Barber’s argument is the grim fact that poverty is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Wealth inequality is at an all-time high, as detailed in fact sheets released by the Poor People’s Campaign with the Institute for Policy Studies. Billionaire wealth increased by $1.5 trillion over the past two years, while, with the cancellation of pandemic relief programs, poverty is increasing. The Childhood Tax Credit alone cut childhood poverty in half in the U.S. Its cancellation pushed 3.5 million children back into poverty. In New York City alone, more than 100,000 people are in homeless shelters.

“Living wages could stop death,” Barber explained. “Healthcare could stop death. Child poverty tax credits could stop death. Redirecting the war economy could stop death. Voting rights could stop death.”

Barber espouses “fusion politics,” bringing together people of different races, ethnicities and classes in concerted grassroots action.

“In this coming year, 2024, we’re planning 30 major actions, nonviolent, at state capitols. We’re planning on June 15th of next year, a massive Poor People’s, Low-Wage Workers and Moral March on Washington, D.C.,” Barber said. “And to the polls, because we’re going to be mobilizing the 87 million poor and low-wealth people in this country. Poor and low-wealth people now make up over 30% of the electorate, generally, and over 40% of the electorate in battleground states. In most places, poor and low-wealth people are not voting because they feel like the system has just abandoned them.”

At the opening of the Moral Poverty Action Congress, Barber, like Biden, invoked a renowned American poet, reading Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “A Psalm of LIfe.” The poem included Longfellow’s directive “to act, that each to-morrow Find us farther than to-day.”

In the same book with the poem “Chicago,” Carl Sandburg, who grew up poor himself and championed working people throughout his life, included another poem that commented on the constant attacks on the working class, and the power of the masses when provoked.

“I am the people—the mob—the crowd—the mass.

Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me?”

In the century since these Sandburg poems were published, the People have risen up many times, demanding change. The coming years will be no different. As Bishop Barber and his allies poetically affirm at every rally, “Forward ever, backwards never.”

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StoryApr 18, 2023“Poverty, by America”: Author Matthew Desmond on How U.S. Punishes the Poor & Subsidizes the Wealthy
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