Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

‘Fight poverty, not the poor’: Poor People’s Campaign marches on state houses across the country, in Boston

Madla Walsh
Protesters hold up signs as the march pauses in front of the Government Center. (Madla Walsh/Beacon Staff)

Savina Martin remembers the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. 

She recalls the anger of her Roxbury community that prompted her to join a movement for change. After decades of organizing for progress, she marched with poor and low-wage workers across the city of Boston.

As part of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, marchers mobilized at state houses in over 30 states on Saturday. Martin is a tri-chair of the Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign. The campaign seeks a “third reconstruction” with goals such as establishing a living minimum wage of at least $15 an hour, healthcare for all, fully funded public education, and just immigration laws. 

“We may not run this country, but we can make it run,” Martin said in a speech to the assembly. “We gathered here today [as] a fusion movement of poor and low-wealth people, faith leaders, advocates, and allies from across the state to say we do not accept poverty as the fourth leading cause of death in America.”

According to researchers at the University of California, Riverside, cumulative poverty—a state of poverty that lingers over time—is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S., though this statistic is not currently reciprocated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Martin’s intersectional identities as a veteran, faith leader, community member, and low-income affected person have shaped her passion to initiate changes. The movement mobilized low-income workers to rally against poverty policies throughout the U.S.

“It’s a unified force,” Martin said. “An intergenerational movement.”

Voters and Massachusetts residents from the Berkshires to Cape Cod mobilized at the 54th regiment across from the State House. They held signs that read “Lift from the bottom and everybody rises” and “Everybody’s got a right to live.” Choir members, part of the campaign’s Theomusicology group, prompted the assembly to join in on songs like “This Little Light of Mine.” Campaign leaders and community members gave reports on poverty data in the U.S. and testimonies of impacted individuals.

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  • The Good Trouble Brass Band plays “The Saints Come Marching Home” as the campaign marches from the Old State House to the Current Massachusetts State House. (Madla Walsh/Beacon Staff)

  • The Rev. Dr. William Barber holds his fist up while addressing the crowd in front of the Massachusetts State House. (Madla Walsh/Beacon Staff)

“We know the power of statehouses in creating policy that keeps people living and thriving and growing,” said campaign member Bill Larkin in a speech to the crowd. “We want no more voter suppression, guaranteed labor rights, healthcare for all, and adequate affordable housing.” 

Robert Paul Hartley, assistant professor of social work at Columbia University, released a study in 2020 about low-income voters. The study found that in the 2020 elections, 35 percent of the voting electorate were low-income, and while 80 percent were registered, only 73 percent went to the polls. 

Virginia Pratt works with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She attended the assembly in Massachusetts on Saturday to fight against the policies that negatively impact low-wage workers. 

“I think in this country it’s criminal that we have the level of poverty that we have,” Pratt said in an interview with the Beacon. “I’m old enough to remember when Johnson was in office, and he called for a War on Poverty. I would love to hear us do that now.”

Tri-Chair Vaugn Allen Goodwin urged those assembled to mobilize the large non-voting income population (LIV), whom he called the “sleeping giant.” 

“The poverty that we are dealing with is abolishable and unnecessary,” Goodwin said to the crowd. “We are determined to take back the mic from extremists and from extremism, and we are here to raise our voices, register, and cast our votes as demands.”

The study also found that low-income voters could have a significant impact on battleground states. In the 2020 presidential election, the margin of victory in Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin was 3 percent or less. Low-income voters make up large portions of the electorate in these states, and a higher LIV turnout could affect election outcomes. 

Throughout the assembly, protesters chanted, “Fight poverty, not the poor,” and emphasized that poverty is a “policy choice.” The U.S. has the largest economy in the world, and in 2022, the official poverty rate was 11.5 percent. For social welfare spending, it ranks behind many of its fellow countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), including much of Western Europe, Scandinavia, Japan, and Canada. 

On Monday, advocates returned to the Massachusetts State House to deliver a list of demands for representatives from both parties. According to the Poor People’s Campaign, poor and low-income voters make up 43 percent of the state’s electorate. 

“When it comes to social issues in America, you need to stand up and unify and change the policies,” said attendee David D. Michael Edwards.

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  • Leaders of the march sing “This little light of mine” as the crowd gathers in front of the Massachusetts State House. (Madla Walsh/Beacon Staff)

  • Protesters lay a cardboard coffin on the steps outside of the Massachusetts State House, symbolizing those who have died from poverty-related issues. (Madla Walsh/Beacon Staff)

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About the Contributor
Emma Siebold
Emma Siebold, Staff Writer
Emma Siebold (she/her) is a first-year journalism major/political communications minor from Spring Branch, Texas. She is also an associate producer for WEBN-TV and editorial assistant at Emerson Today. Outside of the newsroom, Emma enjoys training with the Dashing Whippets running team, listening to folk music, and obsessing over Marvel movies.

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