With the Capitol behind him, in a city fraught with partisan politics, the Rev. William Barber laid out his vision for the Poor People’s Campaign in his gravelly preacher’s voice.
“Don’t get it twisted,” he told a crowd on Saturday during a rally on the Mall. “We are not left, we are not right, we are not conservative or liberal.”
The rally followed 40 days of protest and civil disobedience across the country, but Barber wanted the crowd to know that day was not the end of anything — it was to be the beginning of a “moral uprising across America.”
And, even though the day marked 50 years since “Resurrection City,” when thousands camped out in the same place to decry the plight of the poor, Barber also made it clear that they were not there to celebrate an anniversary.
“This is not a commemoration of what happened 50 years ago,” he said. “This is a reenactment and reinauguration.”
Just as Barber and the Poor People’s Campaign co-organizers want their movement to transcend traditional political affiliation, they also want it to be inclusive, especially of people and issues that they think are marginalized.
Attendees waved signs and held banners that called for an end to voter suppression and mass incarceration, and that advocated for transgender rights and affordable health care. One group hoisted a 20-foot inflatable pipeline that read “No Fossil Fuels.”
Michael Marceau, who was carrying a Veterans for Peace flag, said he thinks veterans often go unheard. He remembers the first Poor People’s Campaign, in 1968, the year before he was drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. The side effects of combat are closely intertwined with poverty, Marceau said.
“It’s all connected,” he said.
Native American activists also said they’ve felt shut out of the conversation.
“We have been neglected for 500 years,” said Chief Wendsler Nosie of Apache Stronghold, a group that has fought mining on indigenous land. “Now today, we are finally being heard.”
The crowd was spread out for about two blocks along the Mall, and attendees included the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and actor Danny Glover. People from California to Florida traveled to the District to attend. For many, it was a family affair.
Veronica Terry brought six of her children from Durham, N.C.
“We do this as a family to show unity,” Terry said. “I told them, ‘This is history in the making.’ ”
One of Portia Armstrong’s grandchildren held a sign that read “Systemic Racism is Immoral.”
“As a mother and grandmother of black and brown boys, I’m very concerned about systemic racism,” said Armstrong, who traveled with her family from Brooklyn. “I want to start them out early and help them understand that you have to stand for something.”
The call for a moral uprising resonated with Alex Mireles, who drove from Boston to the District to attend the rally. Separating children from their families at the border? There’s nothing moral about it, she said.
“I’m one of the many people who are sick and tired of the state of this country,” she said. “If anyone has family values, it’s us.”
Mireles, who had a Mexican flag around her shoulders, said that seeing people assembled there from across the country made it clear that everyone’s struggles are related.
“These aren’t isolated issues,” she said. “It’s a nationwide issue.”
And that’s really one of the campaign’s goals: to unite communities across the country and start a nationwide movement. In the coming days, new Poor People’s Campaign organizers, who just trained in Washington, will spread out across the country, registering voters and encouraging participation in upcoming elections.
But before that, Barber had one more piece of business: “And now, it’s time to go to work,” he told the crowd before joining those assembled in a march down Independence Avenue toward the Capitol.