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More Thoughts on the Poor People’s Campaign


More Thoughts on the Poor People’s Campaign

Gary Olson

The Poor People’s Campaign, modeled on MLK’s original movement from fifty years ago, held its first rallies and direct actions this past Monday at 37 state capitals across the country. I was privileged to be arrested for blocking the roadway during the civil disobedience portion of our rally at the capitol building in Harrisburg, PA. These actions will continue every Monday for 40 days and culminate in a national mobilization at the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C. The campaign is non-partisan and politicians are not allowed on the platform.


This is an extremely important point and affects the way grass-roots organizing for power works and the way PPC develops nationally. I went to an early organizing meeting in Columbus OH and it was held in a rich white church and led by white clerics from Columbus and Cleveland. Fewer than a handful of people were minorities and most were not poor.

The problem, IMO, is that the emphasis on morality, rather than class, immediately gets translated to “judaeo-christian” morality. While the PPC national program is excellent and the call for non-violent action is clear, the nature of the source of the problem (capitalism) gets buried in a kind of judaeo-christian liberalism which is powerful in U.S. social movements. And co-optive. The meeting reminded me of a 1960s kumbayah religious get-together.

Personally, I have decided to look elsewhere to employ my limited resources, time and energy. Like Bruce Dixon, I would walk along with the PPC, and never disparage its commitment, but understand that it is limited by its failure to name the beast.

And there is this: my guess is that poor and working-class rank-and-filers within the movement will soon demand their rightful places as leaders, staff and organizers – or the whole thing will become another after-thought like so many failed liberal movements before it.


Tom Johnson
Columbus, OH USA


Why worry about “rank and file Democrats”? The Democratic Party leadership is 100% on board with our current economic system. As Nancy Pelosi said, “we’re capitalists, that’s just the way it is.”

San Francisco, which is mostly in Pelosi’s district, is a 1-party state. Currently all officeholders are Democrats. In previous years, there has been the occassional Green or a truly rare Republican. SF policies are those of the Democratic Party establishment. And…SF is one of the most unequal places in the world. If SF were a country, then its Gini Index (a standard measure of inequality) of 52 (from the Census) would put it somewhere between Panama and Chile, 15th worst out of 180 countries.

SF ranks 69th worst out of 3,144 US counties. But which are even worse? As you might expect, most are in southern states. But there are exceptions including Suffolk County, MA (Boston), Essex County, NJ (Newark), Pitkin County, CO (Aspin), Washington DC, and last but not least, New York County, NY (Manhattan) with a whopping Gini Index of 60. What do these counties have in common? They are all heavily dominated by the Democratic Party.

If poverty and inequality really bothered the Democrats they would have done something about it besides making it worse.


You seem to be attributing superman/supervillian qualities to the Democrats. A municipal or county government can’t do very much about addressing poverty - it takes the federal government to really make a difference.


Dixon’s critique is important, and your follow up is right on.


But congresspersons can look at the numbers, or show some interest. In DC itself! Sand Francisco fifteenth out of 180 countries…noteworthy.