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Poor People's Campaign rallies in Washington to mobilize low-income voters

Demonstrators gathered in Washington on Saturday for the Poor People's Campaign to protest inequality.
Jose Luis Magana
Demonstrators gathered in Washington on Saturday for the Poor People's Campaign to protest inequality.

Updated June 18, 2022 at 7:13 PM ET

In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. organized low-income Americans of different backgrounds in a march on Washington known as the "Poor People's Campaign."

Over 50 years later, thousands of protesters gathered Saturday to deliver that same message at the Poor People's and Low-Wage Workers' Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls.

The rally urged low-income voters to participate in the upcoming midterm elections and featured religious organizations, pro-democracy groups, labor unions and climate activists from across the country.

"As long as there are 140 million poor and low-income people in this country, and we know it doesn't have to be this way, we won't be silent anymore," said the Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign.

Protesters rallied together for a broad range of issues: an end to poverty, voter suppression, systemic racism, environmental damage and limited access to health care and education.

The Poor People's Campaign also demands what advocates call a Third Reconstruction — a large federal effort to end poverty and make other large scale changes. It follows the first Reconstruction after the Civil War and the Second Reconstruction during the civil rights movement.

Barber also spoke on the disproportionate impacts of the COVID pandemic for low-income people. The Poor People's Campaign released a study in April it said showed that Americans in poor counties died at nearly twice the rate of those in richer counties.

"We know that prior to the pandemic, poor people died at a rate of 700 people a day — 250,000 a year," Barber said.

"Poor people have been 2 to 5 times more likely to die from COVID during this pandemic so far, and we know this can't simply be explained by way of vaccination results; it's related to the discrimination in our policy toward poor and low-wealth people," he said.

Demonstrators traveled from all over the U.S. to protest inequality.

"It's kind of sickening to me that we've come to the capital of the richest country on the planet and we see homeless people in tunnels and living on the streets," said Kevin Queen, 43, who traveled to the rally from Nebraska.

"And so just to be able to be here and participate is an honor as well as something that's very upsetting, because here we are, what, 60 years later, and we're still marching for the poor — we still haven't fixed this problem," he said.

WAMU's Ryan Benk contributed reporting.

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Shauneen Miranda
Shauneen Miranda is a summer 2022 Digital News intern.