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Poor People’s Campaign

This Week in the Narrative 80

Nigel Clarke

I sometimes wonder how far you can push people.

We, like previous generations, tend to believe we are living at the pinnacle of human history; that we have crossed the finish line on certain genres of ideological thought; that things like capitalism and representative democracy will constitute how human beings are organized forevermore.

Barring nuclear catastrophe (perhaps somewhat likely), a meteor crashing into the Earth or the sun going supernova (hopefully less likely), ideological thought will continue to develop, new methods will become popular and current norms sent to the historical dustbin.

Recognizing this inevitability begs the question as to when such a shift will take place, or if it is already happening. This is why I sometimes wonder how far you can push people.


Last week, a revival of “MLK’s most radial campaign” — A combination of over 100 poverty, political, and religious groups, alongside the input of tens of thousands of ordinary people over the course of two years, kicked off forty days of action in what is being called the Poor People’s Campaign.

Direct from the horse’s mouth, the campaign is “uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.”

Take a look at just a few of the stats the campaign is associating itself with.

In 2017, the 400 wealthiest Americans owned more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of the entire U.S. population, or 204 million people. Just three individuals possessed a combined wealth of $248.5 billion, an equal amount of wealth as the bottom 50 percent of the country.

64 million people work for less than $15 an hour.

In 2016, there was no state or county in the nation where someone earning the federal minimum wage could afford a 2-bedroom apartment at market rent.

The bottom 90 percent of Americans hold more than 70 percent of debt in the country

According to the Official Poverty Measure, in 2016, nearly 30 percent — or 95 million people — were low income.

Using the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which takes into account income as well as the costs of food, clothing, housing and utilities, and government programs, 43.5 percent of the U.S. population — or 140 million people — were poor or low-income in 2016.

This includes: 60.3% of African-Americans and 51.9% of children.

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, almost five times the average for other wealthy countries. Two thirds of these inmates are people of color.

53 cents of every federal discretionary dollar goes to military spending and only 15 cents is spent on anti-poverty programs?


Capitalism, capitalists will tell you, needs losers so that there can be winners.

Here’s what else capitalism needs: a group of people acting as a buffer, insulating the winners from the losers. Call them the Sheriff of Nottingham; middle-management, who through enforcement and compliance uphold the norms of the system.

That is what is most disquieting about the stats of the Poor People’s Campaign — 40 percent, 50 percent, 60 percent, “highest in the world,” “no state or county in the nation.”

The uber-winners of capitalism have waded so deeply into the muck of avarice, have stolen from the rest so unrepentantly, that they have eaten into their own buffer; they have destroyed the thing that ensures their survival.

It’s kind of like how a cult is only a cult until it has enough followers, then it’s a religion. In a system of winners and losers, how many losers do you have to have before they collectively challenge the legitimacy of the system?

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Written by Nigel Clarke

Nigel Clarke

Writer and notorious vagabond. From the frozen north. Follow Nigel on Twitter @Nig_Clarke.

Nigel Clarke is a Writer for Progressive Army.

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