The High Country Chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign will hold their second meeting at 5:30 p.m. on January 15 at the Harvest House in Boone. Their first meeting on December 4 was part of the nationwide launch of a “new/old” campaign led by Rev. William Barber.
The movement’s goal is to revive the Poor People’s Campaign, a national effort originating 50 years ago during Dr. Martin Luther King’s era.
In 1967, King sensed a new mission that reached beyond the civil rights issues of the day. He called for a revolution of values in America and invited people who had been divided to stand together against the “triplets of evil” — militarism, racism, and economic injustice — and to insist that people need not die from poverty in the richest nation to ever exist.
It was hoped that poor people in communities across America— black, white, brown, and Native — would respond by building a Poor People’s Campaign that demanded a Marshall Plan for America’s poor. Cut short by King’s assassination in April of 1968, Barber now hopes to revive that campaign.
Barber is the former president of the N.C. NCAAP and became well known for his work in organizing the Moral Monday protests. Beginning in late April of 2013 and lasting for several years, the protests were first held in Raleigh at the state legislature building.
During the first year more than 900 demonstrators were arrested for civil disobedience, and police estimated weekly attendance at the protests to be over 2,500.
The Moral Monday movement held its largest rally on February 8, 2014 when some 80,000 people descended on Raleigh for a protest called Historic Thousands on Jones Street, or HK on J. This is said to be the largest Civil Rights protest in the South since the Selma-to- Montgomery marches in 1965.
Barber stepped down from leadership of the North Carolina Chapter of the NAACP in early 2017 and announced plans last summer to resurrect and begin a new Poor People’s Campaign for a Moral Revival in America.
Barber visited Boone on October 22, 2014 and spoke on the Jones House lawn at an event sponsored by the N.C. NAACP and the Forward Together Movement. The focus of this “Moral March to the Polls Rally” was to encourage voters to show up to polling sites across North Carolina on the first day of early voting for that year’s November election.
Supporters of the movement believe the consensus-building skills learned from the days of the Moral Monday movement can now be put to work on a national level to continue King’s work.
Today, Barber’s stated goal is to continue the vision Dr. Martin Luther King began fifty years ago. Barber said, “This is why I hear the Spirit calling us…As I have prayed and read the Scriptures this year, I hear a resounding call to the very soul of this nation…We need a new Poor People’s Campaign for a Moral Revival in America.”
Cathy Williamson and Charles Douglas are co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign of Watauga County. They both spoke at the December 4 meeting about their goals and vision on how the High Country can participate. Williamson told the 40 plus people at the Harvest House that the Poor People’s Campaign may seem like a new phrase or a new cause but it is actually quite old. “It was founded and was the brain child of Martin Luther King in 1968.”
Williamson went on to say “It’s a really important mission and is going to take a lot of people on the ground to do what we want to do. And we’re going to start tonight with this crowd, right here. Our goal basically is to bring to light what poverty is in Watauga County. We are going to hear from people who are actually living from day to day, with the struggles of poverty and how it effects their health care, their home life, their ability to eat, get medication, and all sorts of things you probably don’t think about. A lot of people think if you have a roof over your head and clothes on your back, then you are doing ok – but it is a lot more than that.”
April 4, 2018 will be the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination and 2018 will also be 50 years since the original Poor People’s Campaign was launched.
Williamson told the group, “Today that effort has a new voice, a new plan, a new leader, and a brand new energy to go with it. So here we are and here you are – you are truly making history tonight as we re- launch this campaign. We will not let this PPC fail or lose traction. Rev. Barbour like Rev. King knows that there is more that unites us than there is that divides us. He understands that poor white, black and brown people have been sold a myth – a bill of goods that their struggle with poverty is simply because of the other people in poverty whose skin may be a little lighter or a little darker than their own. He understands that together as a united front, poor people of all colors can and will make these changes happen, and they will stand as a united voice to make those changes. Together we will challenge the systemic poverty.”
The group plans on having monthly meeting on the 15th and have three goals in mind – a community audit, community meetings, and organizing civil disobedience.
Douglas went on to explain the goals: “The first step is doing something called the community audit. The community audit will reach out to a community that feels they are suffering in the richest country in the history of the world. We want to speak to you. What is poverty to you? We all think we know what poverty is from our perspective, but when was the last time you asked someone what it mean to them? I guaranteed you the answer would amaze you.”
The second goal is “to do what we are doing here right now. Right now we have 40 or so people here – we will be doing this every month…inviting community leaders to come back and testify before the community. If you are to fight for something – you’ve got to see each other – it doesn’t make sense to click on something, or just share posts or videos. We need to see each other. That’s how you get somebody to care and fight for something.”
The third goal is protesting, Douglas told the group, “We will also be doing civil disobedience. It’s going to be protesting in a new way, protests you’ve never seen before. So instead of protesting at the state capital, we are going to protest at the places that are central to the problems. We have a criminal justice system problem in N.C. So how do you protest that? Do you go to the state capital — or would it make more sense to go to the prisons to say this is enough – down with this institution.”
Starting in May, the campaign will participate in 40 days of action. During these 40 days, people of the campaign plan to march upon state capitals and conduct town halls around North Carolina.
Cathy Williamson said the January 15th meeting will be a brief recap of the history of the original campaign launched in 1968 by MLK and the goals of Rev. Barber’s new campaign launch in 2018, the 50th Anniversary of MLK’s assassination. There will also be a number of speakers at the meeting as well. Brittney Tensi, founder of the Little Free Pantry of Boone, will talk about her experience living in poverty in Boone as a child and her motivation to remove stigma from needing food assistance. JB Beyer, resident of Bradford Trailer Park will also speak. He chooses to live among those in poverty as part of a ministry he shares with his wife. John Elian, now a Project Manager with 444 Construction, was homeless for a period of time, and he will talk about the path from middle class to homelessness. A young lady from App State will talk about the prevalence of college students living in poverty.
The public is invited to attend. More information can be found on their Facebook page at The Poor People’s Campaign of Watauga County. For information on the national campaign, go to www.poorpeoplescampaign.org. You may also contact Cathy Williamson by phone if you would like to become involved with the campaign. 828-265-9069.
The January 15th meeting begins at 5:30 at the Harvest House – located at 247 Boone Heights Drive.