A Peek into the Poor People's Campaign Moral Poverty Action Congress

If there’s one thing the Poor People’s Campaign knows how to do, it is: energizing a room full of people with hearty music and mesmerizing messages. 

The Poor People’s Campaign Moral Poverty Action Congress (PPC Congress) took place last week starting Juneteenth (June 19) in Washington, DC for an action-packed three days. I attended the second day with some colleagues from the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS).

A sway of the hips there, a clap there, a talented live band driving the beat, and a banner that says “POVERTY = DEATH” plastered onstage – the opening to the second day of the PPC Congress served as a reminder of our collective morals against poverty, laid out as the Poor People's Campaign’s principles and demands, and a morale boost for why we were there in the first place.

Since 2018, the mission of the Poor People’s Campaign is to rewrite and enact a moral budget that eradicates poverty in the United States. Rev. Dr. William J. Barber and Rev. Liz Theoharis are the co-chairs. 

The message was clear: Poverty is the 4th leading cause of death in the U.S. as research shows. Before the federal government implemented temporary relief policies as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, 140 million Americans were living in poverty. To put that into perspective, 43% of the nation and 52% of children were poor or low-income. Poverty exists and is exacerbated by the denial of healthcare, food, and housing to Americans and is driven by environmental injustices and bloated militarized spending.


Once we began the day with high spirits, we dove into a plenary about policy #facts led by Shailly Barnes from the Kairos Center and Rev. Kazimir Brown from Repairers of the Breach. Oh, and there were hundreds of representatives and advocates from more than 30 states in the audience – it was a packed room.

Shailly Barnes and Rev. Kazimir Brown highlighted new national and state fact sheets created with my colleagues at IPS. Where taxpayer dollars go toward the military, those dollars are taken away from critical programs like the Child Tax Credit, Medicaid, and SNAP – due to the military and social programs sharing the same pot in the federal discretionary budget. Our report shows that less than $2 out of every $5 in discretionary spending were available to fund people and communities.

Here are key points about militarism and poverty taken from the national data fact sheet:

Again and again we heard: Poverty is a policy choice. So too can the solutions that combat poverty – which is why the Poor People’s Campaign collaborated with lawmakers to reintroduce the Third Reconstruction: Fully Addressing Poverty and Low Wages from the Bottom Up spearheaded by Representatives Pramila Jayapal and Barbara Lee. Versions of this bill have seen the House floor for a few years now, and the Poor People’s Campaign continues to demand that our leaders take solutions to poverty seriously.

Later in the afternoon, hundreds of the same representatives and advocates visited House and Senate offices, with fact sheets in hand, and urged lawmakers that a Third Reconstruction is necessary and that to be poor and low-income in the U.S. is a death sentence.

That evening, these representatives and advocates gathered again in front of the steps of the Supreme Court for a speak-out program. We heard powerful stories from people across different backgrounds, including mothers, veterans and religious leaders – all united by the unjust realities of being poor and low-income in the U.S.

What followed was a press conference across the street right outside the Capitol Building. Testimonies continued, and a few lawmakers in attendance showed their support, including Rep. Jayapal and Rep. Lee.

In our fight against poverty, we must fight for demilitarization and cuts to militarized spending, which includes the Pentagon, border militarization, and carceral systems. We need to prioritize our communities that rely on social programs such as food assistance, healthcare, and childcare. Our federal budget must reflect the people's’ needs.

As the Poor People’s Campaign chants: Forward together, not one step back.