The National People’s Summit and the Poor People’s Campaign: In Memory of MLK

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King had more than a dream of peaceful co-existence between blacks and whites. He had more than a dream of racial harmony and humanity united, for the first half of that dream was civil rights in the 1950s.

The second half was economic rights in the late 1960s: focusing on issues such as education, poverty, health care, and affordable housing. But most of all, it was about the homeless, the hungry, and the needy, which led to the development of the Poor People’s Campaign. Tragically, on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated by a sniper rifle; he was only 39 years old. However, forty-one years later, that second half of his dream is about the march forward with people from the North and South.

Last week, the independent National People’s Summit and Tent City was held at Grand Circus Park in Detroit on Woodward and Adams in response to the National Business Summit, which was held downtown inside the GM Renaissance Center, where demonstrations and protests chanting “No jobs, no peace!” and “No justice, no peace!” were held outside the building. “I’m here to support the People’s Summit, the other side of the business summit,” said Bill Meyer of Hamtramck, Mich., who participated in the demonstration last Tuesday.

“I’m not one of the organizers but I’m a strong supporter of it. Our country’s in desperate shape right now. We’re going down the tubes, this country. We’ve got to do something about it. Everyone’s affected by what goes on in the economy in the U.S. The whole world is feeling effects of our economic meltdown here.”

The People’s Summit believed in what King stood for: justice and equality for people of all races – including gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders. Like his Poor People’s Campaign, the Summit is centered on the rise in unemployment and job loss, and an Economic Bill of Rights in need to be addressed to Congress.

“The People’s Summit was organized and initiated by the Moratorium NOW Coalition to stop foreclosures and eviction,” said Jerry Goldberg, an organizer of the National People’s Summit. “When we heard there was going to be a National Business Summit with the major CEOs of all the corporations convened in Detroit. We said we have to answer that. We thought they have a lot of gull these CEOs who are shutting plants, laying off people, tossing people out of their homes. What we were going to organize a people’s response of the workers and the poor, those suffering from plant closures and layoffs.”

To them, the National Business Summit is all about rich, powerful, and elite banks, businesses and corporations speaking on how to improve their portfolio in the Great Recession at the expense of those working hard to pay the bills, send their kids to school, provide for themselves, and strive to get by. So, the People’s Summit is in “The Spirit of Dr. King”: fighting for social reform against injustice, and we, the People, can either sit back and do nothing, or take a stand and fight back.

“We’ve had a People’s Summit to oppose the rich and famous summit going on” said David Sole, an organizer of the event and UAW member. “The people who have already ruined America, the big CEOs, the bankers, plant closers. We’re the victims of that. We’re meeting to plan our own future. We’re not going to let them plan our future. We’re fighting back and organizing. We’re working on a people’s agenda, people’s economic program that includes reopening the plants, taking billions of dollars that the government gave these crooks. We believe a job is the right of every person.”

Recently, over the weekend, Antoinette Harrell and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) have resurrected the Poor People’s Campaign with a public hearing press conference held at the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

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“Today, 41 years later,” said Kareem Ali of the South Haven Muhammad Study Group, “we stand here today … where Dr. King was murdered, in his same spirit … as we stand here today … we are to fulfill the vision of the poor for the poor and oppressed throughout the United States of America.”

A self-proclaimed “poverty whistleblower,” Antoinette Harrell is also co-founder of Gathering of Hearts, where they have been on tour in the South visiting families stricken by poverty. Throughout the weekend, Gathering of Hearts and the SCLC have been marching and campaigning on behalf of the Poor People’s Campaign in Lambert, Mississippi.

“I want to say to America today that we will not stand for this injustice” Harrell states. “This is a crime against humanity. We’re not speaking about our civil rights here. We’re talking about our rights as human beings. … As Dr. King would say, ‘Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.’… I have walked through many homes and met many faces of sorrow. At night, when I lay down at my home, with hot water, a refrigerator with food … I can’t tell you the pain that I feel for those that is still suffering. … In the Deltas of Mississippi, I have seen poverty like never before.”

Both the National People’s Summit and the Poor People’s Campaign continue to keep the legacy of Dr. King alive, as they continue to work on the second chapter of his work.

“We’re asking the world to join us, the nation to join us …” Harrell said. “But unlike before, we’re calling for justice. We’re calling for justice. We are not demanding another tour, but we’re demanding justice. That, in this country, no child should suffer. No child should be left behind without the right education that they need to compete with the rest of the world. This is a violation of human rights … This is not about the color of our skin. Injustice to any human being is injustice. Being green, black, white, blue, or brown – Dr. King stood for everyone. And we want to say that we stand here today to fight against the biggest crime against humanity: poverty.”