Put People First! PA Leaders Reflect on the Poor People’s Campaign Moral Action Congress (Series)

By Kiki, Johnstown

The Moral Action Congress was an amazing show of unity. I don’t think there was any gathering of working class people from all over the country as big or significant. Pennsylvania’s influence over the event was massive. It’s evidence that our movement is growing and we will win.

Put People First! PA Leaders Reflect on the Poor People’s Campaign Moral Action Congress (Series)

By Jennina, Altoona

This year, I was fortunate enough to be able to go to the 3 day Poor People’s Campaign Moral Congress in DC. Leaders and organizations comprised of the Poor and working class, came from 42 states across the country to participate.  My home state of Pennsylvania ended up being the largest state presence there, with around 80 people from PA alone! 

The 1st day we got to ask Democratic (all candidates were invited, Republican candidates either refused or did not respond) Presidential Candidate’s questions that mattered to us. I stood with Mr. Wendsler Nosie and asked candidate Andrew Yang about Indigenous sovereignty rights and the Indian Child Welfare Act. His response disappointed me, it was simply “I’ll hire someone to handle that”. 

The remainder of the 1st day, was mostly getting to know other leaders from across the country, eating, socializing and getting rest. I was both amazed and inspired that nearly 1,000 people, from varying cultures, races, religions- all poor or working class, all made this long trip. We gathered together in instant fellowship, to learn more about our common struggles and improve the quality of life for millions.

Days 2 and 3 we divided ourselves into workshops or Tracks, where we learned from Leaders from past and present struggles.  These classes were meant to increase our overall clarity, connection to others and commitment to changing conditions in society that are killing us.

I went to the Organizing the Poor workshop on day one, led by Tony Prince. We heard from “houseless” organizers about their struggles, their losses and their victories. Perhaps the most incredible thing that happened this day, was the reformation of The National Homeless Union! We got to witness history in the making as they established, appointed leadership, honored distinguished leaders and signed a document which reestablished their union.  

I then went to a workshop on Indigenous Sovereignty.  Indigenous leaders from C.A, AZ, Standing Rock, and N.Y. gathered with faith leaders and members of NY PPC who are committed to making indigenous voices heard. Hearing their common pain and struggles  inspired me to set up a meeting between those of us who were able to stay a bit after the Congress and Rev. DR. Liz Theoharris.  

The last day we got to see some of our own members speak to Congress about poverty in the U.S. Our own Savannah Kinsey from PPF Johnstown Healthcare Rights Committee spoke about the connection to poverty, the drug epidemic and lack of healthcare and treatment. 

After the Congress was over Rev. DR Liz Theoharris graciously agreed to meet with myself and some of the other Indigenous women from across the country. We talked to her about ways to help Indigenous people feel more welcome and heard in the PPC nationally.  

My day ended with a celebratory dinner between Trini & Irene- Native Women from the CA delegation and myself. I drove to the airport, and fellow MJLP leaders Maddie and Jake Butterly took turns calling and helping me stay awake on my long drive home. I am forever grateful to be part of such an amazing group of people.

Put People First! PA Leaders Reflect on the Poor People’s Campaign Moral Action Congress (Series)

Karim, Philadelphia

For me, the 2019 Moral Action Congress with the Poor People’s Campaign came at a time when I’ve been reflecting more actively on how racism and the war economy have affected my family, my childhood, and my politics. I’ve been reading Racecraft by Barbara and Karen Ransby, and thinking about my life and about the movement of poor people.

My siblings and I might not have been born in America, or at all, if not for the colonization of Algeria by France, and if not for the struggle of poor people against it. This was how the crisis of poor people showed as a central part of my life, though I didn’t always think of it that way.

Growing up in a “middle class” town which was mostly white, I faced the kinds of racism that may seem relatively trivial. Still, throughout school racist jokes had a real power to hurt me because I loved my Muslim family, and my family had been traumatized by a racist war economy for decades if not centuries. It’s not the kind of hurt that makes you bleed, but it’s the kind of pain that you feel in your bones when you know your people are hurting.

Those feelings were a central motivation to look for ways to make change. Those feelings were so strong that they became a part of my identity. However, during college I didn’t develop a full appreciation for the way this story connected me to many different poor and dispossessed people. This was an important stage of my development. But my feelings of commitment to people with experiences like my own wasn’t enough to make me an effective leader. I needed to be in organization, and needed to get over a few misleading ideas: that I was “middle class,” or that I was somehow in a separate, sectioned-off part of America’s working class.

Joining Put People First! PA and the Poor People’s Campaign has helped me do that. I have connected with many different kinds of working class people. Over almost five years, I’ve come to see how I might have mistaken acts of racism for the “fact” of my “race.” The different poor people in this movement have shaken up what I thought was foundational for me. The Moral Action Congress was an opportunity to feel the rising tide of our power. People who are poor and Black, poor and white, poor and indigenous, poor and LGBTQ, poor and Latinx, poor and undocumented, poor and incarcerated, poor and Muslim, poor and Christian…they are’t a box of labels, they are real humans who I have relationships with. They’ve taught me that instead of being hurt and alone, we can be together and unstoppable. 

Elections are interesting, and they are very important. The candidates’ forum helped solidify my own analysis of the election. But the lessons of the Poor People’s Campaign that were shared by the people and the organizations at the Moral Action Congress were more memorable, and more important than any speech by any politician.

Put People First! PA was all over print, video and radio news over the past week – highlighted from our role in the Poor People’s Moral Action Congress in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few of our recent media mentions:

“Poor people got an audience with Democratic candidates. Many were skeptical that politicians can help them” (The Inquirer) by Jonathan Tamari, June 24, 2019

“The Right’s Cure for Poverty: Hard Work and Father Figures At a hearing, Republicans told a familiar story while the Poor People’s Campaign presented a bold budget proposal” (The Nation) by Greg Kaufmann, June 20, 2019

“Poor People’s Campaign and 2020” (WNYC) by The Brian Lehrer Show, Jun 19, 2019

Want to see more of Put People First! PA’s press coverage? We’re updating our website press page. Stay tuned for updates!