A Brief Review of The Souls of Poor Folk: Connecting to the Movement of Movements
As Campaign Nonviolence invites everybody to join in connecting the dots of violence and injustice, Poor People’s Campaign continues to analyze and challenge the intersectional issues facing our country. The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) has published The Souls of Poor Folk, an in-depth assessment of the trends and conditions of poverty in the US over the past 50 years, focusing on where we stand today. In addition to providing an empirical basis to build and strengthen the unity between multi-racial, multi-gendered, intergenerational, inter-faith, constitutionally grounded, and and non-faith participants looking to make meaningful change in their communities, Souls of Poor Folk sets out to dismantle the two most common myths about poverty in America: 1) “Poverty is the fault of the poor”; and 2) “Despite our nation’s abundance, there is not enough for all of us to survive and thrive.”
Both CNV and Poor People’s Campaign aim to build a movement of movements, making the case that the most serious challenges we face in modern cannot effectively be tackled separately. IPS states, “It connects the attacks on voting rights to the attacks on basic needs like water, health care, living wages, and the shift towards the incarceration and criminalization of the poor, with disparate effects across race, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation. It shows that our pursuit of wars not only costs countless lives abroad, but is also connected to domestic problems, including the gutting of public services, the decline in government accountability, and the poisoning of our water and air. It documents the decline of rural communities over the past 50 years, where hospitals are closing, jails are opening, and diseases that had been eradicated in the 20th century are cropping back up.”
Below we can see some key ways that systemic racism, poverty, war, and economic devastation function together to create difficult living situations for so many people in our country and in the world, as discussed in the report.
- Legislative actions and legal decisions at the federal and state levels have severely restricted the ability of people of color, especially poor Black people, Latinx, and Native Americans, to participate in democratic processes.
- “Tough on crime” politics has led to increased policing of poor communities and a tenfold increase in annual federal discretionary spending on prisons since 1976.
- Federal spending on immigration, deportation, and border policies increased from $2 billion to $17 billion and deportations increased tenfold between 1976 and 2015.
- Instead of going to workers, massive gains from economic growth have been going to a smaller and smaller share of society.
- Nearly 41 million Americans live below the federal poverty line.
- Nearly 140 million people (43.5 percent) are either poor or low-income
- The scaling back of anti-poverty programs has contributed to the perception that government programs do not work.
- Cuts in federal housing assistance and affordable, subsidized housing since the 1970s have contributed to rising structural homelessness.
- Student debt levels have exploded, driven in part by the growth of high-cost, high-risk, for-profit colleges, which now make up nearly a third of new higher education opportunities.
- Even under the Affordable Care Act, about 31million people remain uninsured.
- America has become a debtor nation.
- Since Vietnam, the United States has waged an ongoing war against diffuse enemies, siphoning massive resources away from social needs.
- Militarism abroad has gone hand in hand with the militarization of U.S. borders and of poor communities across this country.
- The perpetual war economy is also linked to the broader trend of criminalization of the poor over the past 50 years.
- The U.S. and global climate and ecological crises are multipliers of the other injustices documented in this report.
- The tragic effects of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico in 2017 are a disturbing example of rising climate change threats, particularly for the poor.
- Across the United States, poor people face crises of water affordability, water pollution, and water scarcity in some areas exacerbated by climate change.
- While poor urban populations deal with rising water bills, the rural poor often lack access to piped water and sewage systems, with striking racial disparities.
- Meanwhile, pipeline infrastructure to transport oil and gas has been expanding, even though it poses serious threats to the climate,
water quality, and public health through leakage as well as catastrophic spills.
- The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) was responsible for emitting 72 percent of the U.S. government’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2016.
Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, sums it up perfectly: “If we explore the interconnection of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation, we see how systemic racism allows us to deny the humanity of others; by denying the humanity of others, we are given permission to exploit or exclude people economically; by exploiting and excluding people economically we are emboldened to abuse our military powers and, through violence and war, control resources; this quest for control of resources leads to the potential destruction of our entire ecosystem and everything living in it. And we see how the current moral narrative of our nation both justifies this cycle and distracts us from it.”
To learn more about these issues and find out how to join the movement to bring together impacted people, help them build power, and hold our government accountable, see the full report here. Find out how you can join the Poor People’s Campaign at their website here. And join the Campaign Nonviolence Convergence this September to make sure your voice is heard in DC.