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