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'Poor People's Campaign' promises nonviolent protest

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau

February 05. 2018 9:11PM
Debbie Opramolla of Rindge talks about racism in New Hampshire at the launch event for the 2018 Poor People's Campaign in Concord on Monday. (Dave Solomon / Union Leader)



CONCORD — A national movement to revive the Poor People’s Campaign launched half a century ago by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to New Hampshire on Monday, as a delegation of Granite State clergy and social activists presented their manifesto to Gov. Chris Sununu and leading lawmakers in the House and Senate.

They promised one of the largest waves of nonviolent civil disobedience the country has ever seen, starting on Mother’s Day, vowing to risk arrest at sit-ins and similar protests if politicians “fail to adopt a moral and just agenda.”

“Fifty years ago, the Rev. Martin Luther King called for a Poor People’s Campaign, to begin a revolution of values in America,” said the Rev. Eric Jackson, president of the Manchester NAACP, surrounded by dozens of supporters in the lobby of the Legislative Office Building just before their trek to the offices of the governor, House Speaker and Senate President.

“He and other leaders invited people of all races and religions to unite against the evils of racism, poverty and militarism,” said Jackson. “Today a new Poor Peoples Campaign is needed to save America’s soul.”

Similar letters were delivered in 31 other state capitols across the country, as the movement launched late last year held its first day of coordinated action, leading up to a “season of direct action and civil disobedience’’ from May 13 to June 21.

Cooks and cashiers plan to walk off their jobs to support higher wages and union rights on Feb. 12, the 50th anniversary of the sanitation worker strike that brought King to Memphis, where he was assassinated.

“This isn’t a mere commemoration of the work of Dr. King and others 50 years ago; it is the consecration of a new moral movement to transform the political, economic and moral structures of our society,” said Jackson.

“The conditions that motivated Dr. King and others to launch the original Poor People's Campaign have worsened over the past 50 years, with the forces of white supremacy and greed winning more influence in Washington and in statehouses across the country,” he said.

The letter delivered to politicians in Concord calls for “a moral agenda specific to New Hampshire.”

It references six key points, including, “lack of representation of people of color in school curriculum; equal access to inclusive, quality education for all; the lack of a state minimum wage and our reliance on an inadequate federal minimum wage.”

The letter also calls on lawmakers to address “lack of secure access to health care; an inadequate and unfair tax system; and voter suppression.”

“We are prepared to take direct action and engage in nonviolent civil disobedience to insist that Republicans, Democrats and Independents develop serious proposals to address such an agenda,” said Jackson. “We are looking ahead to returning in May and June.”

The movement is led nationally by the Rev. William J. Barber II, who for the past 10 years served as president of the North Carolina NAACP, and the Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice in New York City.

The New Hampshire coalition includes the N.H. Council of Churches, NAACP-Manchester branch, American Friends Service Committee, Granite State Organizing Project, Action-Community-Together (ACT), League of Conservation Voters and several other organizations and individuals.

Its nonpartisan and not focused on any particular legislation, according to the Rev. Jason Wells, executive director of the N.H. Council of Churches.

“We are not addressing specific bills or policies or candidates,” he said. “Our focus is on unity and changing the conversation … to reach across party lines and find a common good for all.”

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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