40 days of action 

The news of the goings-on in D.C. is almost too much to handle. A steady stream of unqualified and shortsighted men and women rotate in and out of high-level government positions. We get rid of one and another pops up to take his or her place.

It appears more and more likely that the House chaplain was asked to resign by Speaker Paul Ryan in response to a prayer for the poor during the debate over the GOP tax bill. Meanwhile, the American people are lied to daily and the free press is constantly under attack by this administration. When comedian Michelle Wolf called the whole mess out at the White House Correspondents Dinner, suddenly there was a rush of journalists defending the chief liar and abuser, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Why? Fear of losing access? Agency capture of the media? Stockholm syndrome?

Back home in our communities, certain politicians work hard to stoke fears that someone, such as an immigrant, a poor person, a teacher or someone out of work, might get one morsel of food, health care, pay, or another benefit they might not "deserve." We are abandoning and hurting entire groups of people as we race to see who can be the toughest on those who dare reach out for help in making their way. But instead of worrying about our public schools, teacher pay and insurance, and the plan to further cut taxes on the rich, we are focused on all the wrong things, such as making sure we have a Ten Commandment monument that can't be knocked down again or defending the honor of a well-paid, serial liar from a joke about her eye makeup. While we are worried about those who "punch up," we allow our government and president unfettered ability to "punch down." Where is our conscience?

Well, I bring you some good news. In all of this cruelty and carrying on, a group of people is bringing light into the world. And they need help. On May 13, 2018, 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. launched the 1968 Poor People's Campaign, a nonpartisan coalition of people across the country, including here in Arkansas, are relaunching the campaign to, in their own words, "challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation's distorted morality."

I know what you are thinking. Here's another group with another event I need to attend. I get it. Fatigue has set in. It's easier to tune out than to stay engaged. But I ask you, before you write off this group, to do some research on the man who is leading this new Poor People's Campaign. His name is Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II. His name is a mouthful, but his message is simple: We need a moral revival to save our country. And for those of you who cringe at the thought of joining up with anything involved with church, the religion behind this movement is reminiscent of the way the faith communities helped bring about the civil rights movement.

Launching on Mother's Day, the group plans 40 days of nonviolent direct action. There will be protests on Mondays in Little Rock, similar to the Moral Monday movement Barber used so effectively in North Carolina to help defeat regressive legislation, and other opportunities to engage throughout the state.

Keep in mind, the movement in North Carolina started small. Fewer than 20 people showed up for the first event. But, five years later, the group had 80,000 strong attending a rally. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, are often arrested after taking part in nonviolent civil disobedience. Watching the poor and elderly being led away in cuffs while singing protest songs is a powerful scene. And I'm convinced more drastic action is the way to go. Letters and phone calls won't change hearts and policy. People will bring about change. (A bit of a disclaimer: I recently started volunteering for the legal committee of the Arkansas Poor People's Campaign, but I take no credit for any of the good work being done by the volunteers across Arkansas.)

So, in a country where we care more about what Kanye West says about President Trump than we do about the lack of clean water in Flint, Mich., there is a group whose message of change and reform rings true. Look up the Arkansas Poor People's Campaign on Facebook or online. Since all types of politicians are quick to quote King even while they support policies such as a strict voter ID law, raising rent on the poor and destroying our public schools, maybe if enough people show up during these 40 days of action, they will begin to take his words to heart, especially what he says about the Poor People's Campaign of his day coming "to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible."


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