With Trump absent, Biden tells the NC civil rights leader that he’ll tackle the coronavirus, address economic and racial injustice.
Somebody’s hurting my people and it’s gone on for far too long. And we won’t be silent any more.
That was the message that was sung, preached and raised up around during a two-hour “Voting is Power Unleashed” Monday night by the Poor People’s Campaign. The national group is co-led by the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, the dynamic former leader of the NC NAACP. The group is a multi-racial revival of the campaign led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967 to mobilize and empower the nation’s poorest residents.
Also sponsoring the event were the national civil rights groups the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Forward Justice, a grassroots group focused on mobilizing the South.
Speaking to the group from his home was Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate. If elected, Biden said he could be counted on to rebuild pathways out of poverty, the same opportunities that his family needed when he was a young boy and his father lost his job.
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“Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign is based on simple moral truth that we’re all created in the image of God, and everyone’s entitled to be treated with dignity and respect,” Biden said. “My dad used to say ‘Joey, a job and a place in the community is about a lot more than a paycheck —it’s about dignity, it’s about respect.’”
Biden said the COVID-19 pandemic has made those existing economic and racial injustices worse, and that the bungled response to the pandemic by Trump has hurt those with the least ability to weather tough times.
“The inequities that exist, they existed long before things got much worse now, but they’ve existed for a long time,” Biden said, referring to the economic and public health crisis brought on by this year’s novel coronavirus pandemic. “For those at the top, they see things going up. But those in the middle and below see things getting worse.”
President Donald Trump was invited but declined to address the group which is looking to organize large numbers of the 140 million poor and impoverished people across America.
Among the policies that Biden said he would pursue: tripling federal funding to Title 1 schools, which are public schools with high percentages of children living in lower-income homes; establishing a national program for free pre-K and policies that limit a parent’s child care spending to 7% of their income; and improving access to affordable housing, including a $15,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers to build up generational wealth.
“We have to just give people a chance,” Biden said.
NC Gets on National Stage
The event, though national in scope, had plenty of North Carolina flavor. It was labeled a “Moral Monday National Assembly” and fashioned after the Moral Monday protests that Barber began in 2013 in opposition to North Carolina’s’ Republican-led state legislature.
There was a feature on Rosanell Eaton, the North Carolina voting rights advocate who died in 2018 at age 97 after decades of pushing back against attempts to curtail the vote in her home state, including serving as the lead plaintiff in a case that reached the US Supreme Court.
But there was some star power as well, from cameo appearances urging people to make plans to vote from actors Jane Fonda and Mark Ruffalo as well as music artist Charlamagne Tha God and Barbra Streisand.
RELATED: With Trump absent, Joe Biden tells the NC civil rights leader that he’ll tackle the coronavirus, address economic and racial injustice.
Much of Monday’s program focused on highlighting the political power that those who are financially struggling have, but often don’t exercise because of targeted voter suppression campaigns in areas like the South and the logistical challenges of finding time and the ability to vote when people are juggling multiple jobs or don’t have the transportation to get to a polling place.
This year also brings the challenges of voting absentee, or by mail, for many, with a multiple-step process to request and then mail in a ballot.
Barber and his co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, the Rev. Liz Theoharis, say the solution is to get a higher number of the nation’s more than 140 million poor and low-income people to vote this year, which Barber and other leaders for the Poor People’s Campaign believe could shape the presidential election.
“If we weren’t so powerful, they wouldn’t be fighting so much to suppress the vote,” Barber said Monday.
Theoharis emphasized that those who have been most harmed by the nation’s economic, racial and environmental injustices need to stand up and push back.
“We have to mobilize and organize and register and educate and we have to vote,” Theoharis said. “We have to vote, because our lives, and the life of our democracy depends on it.”
The focus was on making plans on how to vote now, whether by mail, during the early vote period or on Nov. 3, Election Day. There were also calls for younger people to sign up to be poll workers, given that many older poll workers might stay home this year to avoid transmitting COVID-19, or join a new initiative to be voting rights monitors through the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund, the civil rights organization founded by the late US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Sherill Ifill, the racial justice organization’s director, said the civil rights group was poised to get in the courts to address any attempt to suppress people’s vote, whether through voter intimidation tactics at the polls or through access issues. But they need the public to reach out to her group if they see problems such as changes in polling place locations, long lines, or other issues.