Poor People’s Campaign Marches on State Houses Across the Nation, Demanding an End to Poverty


Poor People's Campaign march.

by Jonathan King

On March 2, hundreds of low-income residents, religious leaders and social justice advocates marched from the site of the Boston Massacre at the old State House to the 54th Regiment monument in front of the Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill. 

The march, ending in a rally, was one of 32 simultaneous actions at State Houses across the country that launched the Poor People’s Campaign of “Forty Weeks of Moral Action” leading up to the November elections. The Campaign plans to register and mobilize 15 million low-income voters to demand that our government address poverty, racism, ecological devastation, militarism, and the false narrative of religious nationalism. 

Led by the Good Trouble Honk Band playing Which Side Are You On? and This Little Light of Mine, marchers in Boston held dozens of signs announcing “Everybody’s Got a Right to Live,” “Lift from the Bottom, Everybody Rises,” “Poverty is not a Crime,” and “We are a New Unsettling Force.” They carried mock caskets to symbolize the 800 people who die every day of poverty in the US.

At the rally, speakers demanded that legislators take immediate action to end the crisis of death by poverty, the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. According to Bishop William Barber, national co-chair of the PPC, these State House rallies were “a solemn occasion to not only lift up the friends, family and loved ones who have been lost to policy violence, poverty and low wages, but to show our power and declare to the political establishment that we will not be silent anymore.” 

  Across the country, including in critical battleground states such as Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin and Virginia, impacted people, including poor and low-wage voters, gave testimony of their experiences with poverty. 

In Boston, the rally was kicked off by uplifting songs, led by Jenny Bonham-Carter and Chantal Sanchez, including: “Somebody’s Hurting My Brother”, “Everybody’s Got a Right to Live” and “I Went down to the Rich Man’s House, Took Back What he Stole from Me.”  

Moving opening invocations were offered by Rev. Darrell Hamilton, Pastor at The First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, Rev. Amy McCreath of St. Paul’s Cathedral (across the Common from the State House), and Chaplain Abdullah Abdul-Rahim from Springfield. 

Rev. Savina Martin, Tri-Chair of the Massachusetts Poor Peoples Campaign, gave the opening talk “Each year poverty and low wealth kills over 250,000 people annually–more than dementia, stroke, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. We gather on behalf of the millions of individuals and families who are fighting to survive against a political system that for far too long has allowed this policy violence to occur.”

Wrenching testimony was given by many impacted by the current system: William Call, a Personal Care Assistant with SEIU 1199 described how the job had saved his life. He recounted how providing for one of his patients who was believed to be near death, had ensured that she lived 20 years longer. He told the crowd that Governor Healey was planning to cut homecare for those needing less than ten hours a week, which would be a disaster for those in need.

Judy Schiavone from Northampton described the loss of her two brothers, due to inadequate care and safety net programs, after they returned from the Service.

The intimate connection between housing and health was described by Lady Lawrence of “Housing Equals Health” who lost a sister when she became homeless, preventing her from obtaining needed cancer care.

Maria Termini from MassCare called attention to the continuing lack of adequate medical care in Massachusetts, and the refusal of the State Legislature to pass the needed Medicare for All legislation.

The need for a living wage and affordable housing for graduate students was laid out by Evan Mackay, President of the UAW Graduate Students Union at Harvard.

Michael Kane of the HUD Tenants Coalition highlighted the acute shortage of Section 8 vouchers in Massachusetts, and how straightforward it would be to increase state and federal budgets providing such vouchers. 

The role of militarism and the war economy was laid out by Susan Mirsky, Dr. Joe Hodgkin of Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility and Paul Shannon of Mass. Peace Action. Paul’s talk captured the spirit and sense of many at the rally, as he said:  

We are here to demand from our state legislature as well as congress, that all resources necessary to provide living wages, affordable housing, food, good healthcare and public programs be mobilized to end poverty and the hardship and death it inflicts on our people.

“And where will those resources come from? Martin Luther King gave us the answer. He identified racism, materialism and militarism as the interlocking injustices that must be conquered if we are to achieve his vision of a just society. King saw clearly the link between militarism and poverty. 

“Our military spending is now about $900 billion…Over $29 billion of that $900 billion comes from Massachusetts taxpayers…Just a portion of what Massachusetts sends to the Pentagon and its weapons companies could end poverty in this state. Since when is sending $19 billion in weapons to Israel for its war against Gaza more important than addressing poverty and housing and health care for those struggling to survive here?”

On Monday March 4th a team from the PPC and partners delivered Fact Sheets and Demands to all 200 State House offices. We were welcomed by Rep. Mike Connolly and Senator Liz Miranda. For more information, see our Fact Sheet.

Jonathan King is co-chair of the Mass. Peace Action Board and a member of the Mass. Poor People’s Campaign Coordinating Committee.