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Dr. King’s Poor Peoples’ Campaign

Poor peoples' campaign
There are few people in history that are recognized to the degree of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His monumental work in activism defined the civil rights movement and was integral to establishing social equality.

King’s activism came in a time of extensive social unrest within the prime of the civil rights movement addressing racial segregation. Although he widely famous for his work in establishing racial justice and equality, King was also known as a strong advocate for the poor and an avid critic of capitalist society.

King was integral in planning a campaign for the impoverished to take place in the spring of 1968 in Washington, D.C. The campaign aimed to be a peaceful gathering of low-income individuals from across the United States, congregating with the goal of having anti-poverty legislation passed.

The Poor Peoples’ Campaign (PPC) advocated for prioritizing the impoverished by introducing “a $30 billion anti-poverty package that included a commitment to full employment, a guaranteed annual income measure and more low-income housing.”

To the shock and dismay of the world, King was assassinated weeks before the PPC was expected to take place. Although he was unable to be there for the campaign, the movement continued to pick up where King had left off.

On March 12, 1968, thousands of people came together in Washington, D.C. to protest American poverty and income inequality. The protesters camped out on the National Mall for six weeks and failed to make any substantial political or legislative accomplishments.

However, the Poor Peoples’ Campaign was ultimately considered far from failure and was even able to be very successful in some regards. On the day of action, 50,000 people showed up to march against the perpetuation of low-income society. The movement opened America’s eyes to its rapidly increasing impoverished population. After the campaign, the awareness also led to then-President Lyndon Johnson’s proclamation of waging war on poverty in 1964.

Although not much progress has been made to address poverty in the U.S. since the PPC, a movement towards income equality has sparked not only in America, but across the globe. Calls for minimum wage increases and lowering the gap between lower and upper socio-economic classes are now ringing as loudly as they were during King’s time.

In remembrance of King’s PPC and Johnson’s war on poverty, 2014 is shaping up to be a landmark year in addressing the expanding income inequality and the impoverished population of the world.

– Jugal Patel

Sources: American Friends Service Committee, NPR, The Huffington Post
Photo: Black Youth Project