(RNS) — The Rev. William J. Barber reignited his Moral Marches to end poverty at the place where it all started eight years ago, the outdoor mall behind the North Carolina General Assembly.
But in a sign of the movement’s growing national profile, he had a special guest via video on Monday (June 21): President Biden.
In a prerecorded two-minute video, the president said he supported some of the issues that have become central to the Poor People’s Campaign, which Barber co-chairs — a $15 minimum wage, expansion of health care benefits, protection of voting rights and the right of workers to unionize.
“I don’t think we’ve ever been together at a time of such great opportunity to deliver dignity to our poor and low-wage workers and make ending poverty not just an aspiration, but a theory of change,” Biden said in the video.
Biden will visit North Carolina on Thursday.
Calling Barber “Rev” at one point, Biden went on to say he and Vice President Kamala Harris “will keep working with you and your Poor People’s Campaign to answer that clarion moral call.”
Barber used the rally in 91-degree heat to announce the start of 365 days of action leading to a Mass Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and National Moral March on Washington on June 18, 2022. The rally included multiple videos of low-income Americans fighting for various issues.
Yet, getting the president to agree to some of the movement’s priorities, Barber said, was no reason to ease up on the movement’s demands.
“We have work to do,” Barber intoned, citing the biblical leader Nehemiah who supervised the rebuilding of walls around Jerusalem to protect its citizens from attacks.
“We must compel this nation to recognize that since the United States is the wealthiest nation in the world, indeed in all of history, that it is a moral abomination that there are more than 140 million people in this country who are poor or one emergency away from economic ruin,” he said.
The Poor People’s Campaign has a long list of demands, including student debt relief, immigration reform, criminal justice reform and higher taxes on corporations.
Barber isn’t wasting time. He announced a “Moral March on Manchin and McConnell” Wednesday, in Washington, D.C. The march takes aim at Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — both of whom Barber believes are standing in the way of a $15 minimum wage and a sweeping election reform and voting rights bill.
The Poor People’s Campaign is expected to bring more than seven buses of poor and low-income workers to the nation’s Capitol. The event will also be livestreamed.