At noon on Monday on the steps of the First and Central Presbyterian church at the northwest corner of Rodney Square in Wilmington, the Delaware Poor People’s Campaign held a news conference and demonstration to announce an acceleration of the effort to address rampant poverty and starvation wages in the United States.
The organization is demanding the U.S. Congress pass a resolution calling for a Third Reconstruction, evoking the aborted reconstruction effort after the Civil War, and the mass civil rights movement culminating in the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, respectively.
This third movement is described as a “fundamental restructuring” of our social and economic order and as a necessary first step in recognizing the current material conditions in the country, whereby nearly half the adult population of the US live in extreme poverty or subsist on near starvation wages.
A 2018 Federal Reserve Survey of Household Economics and Decision Making concluded that 40 percent of Americans would struggle to scrape together $400 for a household emergency. This economic precarity is unsustainable.
Pastor Andy Jacob of Hanover Presbterian Church, who spoke at the rally, went further, calling this an explicitly moral campaign. Jacob cited the statistic that almost 45 percent of Delawareans are poor or on meager wages, which includes 61 percent of People of Color.
It was noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated already critical inequalities and suffering. A rapid post-pandemic increase in evictions is forecast, for example, and proposals to assuage this housing catastrophe are stalled in the statehouse.
Organizer Andrea Brown-Clarke expressed her disappointment in the progress Delaware has made, lamenting that many economic justice issues like housing, health care and criminal justice reform continue to be “put on the back burner” for political reasons.
Brown-Clarke pointed out for example that while Senate Bill 15 was approved by the state legislature to increase the minimum wage, and awaits Governor John Carney’s signature, the actual minimum wage is increased in gradual increments: $10.50 by 2022, $11.75 by 2023, $13.25 by 2024, and finally $15 by 2025. This does not come close to meeting the urgency of the moment, she explained, declaring “We need $15 an hour now!”
The Delaware Poor People’s Campaign is a state affiliate of the national Poor People’s Campaign, whose leader is Rev. Dr. William Barber II. The Delaware group was scheduled to be part of the virtual national launch of the Third Reconstruction campaign Monday evening with all other state affiliates.
The group is planning stepped-up advocacy and action over the next 12 months, culminating with a Moral March on Washington and Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers Assembly on June 18, 2022, in Washington, D.C.