By Amy V. Simmons
Poor and low wealth West Virginians, impacted people from other states, national religious leaders, economists and other stakeholders were joined by two invited members of Congress at a virtual Christmas Eve press rally demanding that Sen.Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) “stop abusing poor and low-wealth” communities.
During the rally, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II — president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call For Moral Revival — read aloud the text from a detailed letter sent to Manchin, which included next steps in the ongoing struggle to pass crucial legislation that the senator has come out on record as opposing and negotiating in bad faith.
“By obstructing the Build Back Better Act, living wage legislation, voting and immigrant rights protection, you have been downright abusive to poor and low wealth people in the country,” Barber said. “You have blocked investment in our daily lives and prevented legislation to secure the infrastructure of our democracy. …We are not going to stop fighting to expose what you are doing and who it is hurting. In the new year, on January 7, we are committing to begin a new season of non-violent intensification of multiple forms of direct action, led by poor and low wealth people alongside religious leaders.”
During the rally, many speakers committed themselves to the upcoming action and called Manchin’s actions towards the American people — especially to his own constituents, several who were part of the discussion — abusive. Yet, they are all in for the long haul.
“If the things we are fighting for were easy, they would have been done yesterday,” said U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal, (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, as she acknowledged the ongoing work of the Poor People’s Campaign and their supporters. “They would have been done a year ago. . . they would have been done 10 years ago. The things we are fighting for are not easy.”
Jayapal emphasized that the timing of the press conference underscored the fact that the struggle never takes a holiday. People need action now, she said.
“Working people, poor people, Black and Brown people, families, seniors, immigrants and women cannot wait,” Jayapal said. “Lowering prescription drug prices and capping the cost of insulin can’t wait, as people ration their life saving medication. Expanding health care for millions, expanding Medicaid to close coverage gaps and expanding Medicare for seniors can’t wait, as a pandemic continues to rage, and housing can’t wait, as too many people don’t have a roof over their head on Christmas Eve.”
Denita Jones, chair of the Texas Poor People’s Campaign said that her strong faith has sustained her, especially through the duel crisis brought on by the pandemic and the devastating snowstorm and power outages last winter in Texas. She drew a verbal line in the sand regarding Manchin’s lack of action and recalcitrance.
“You are my oppressor, and as such, it is my duty as an impacted person to tell you,” Jones said. “We refuse to accept that there is no room in this democracy for the Build Back Better agenda when the Senate passes a $778 billion war budget that is four times as expensive. We will continue to shout from the rooftops and every valley that there is room for democracy and the oppressors will not win.”
Many clergy members participated in the rally. Reverend Dr. Beth Johnson, co-chair of the Unitarian Universalist Association, poor people’s campaign Leadership Council, representing over 1,000 congregations, was one of them. She referenced recent alleged private remarks made to colleagues by Manchin in a story first reported by the Huff Post that he thought parents would waste monthly child tax credit payments on drugs.
“I’m here to say Joe Manchin, we refuse your narrative,” Johnson said. “We refuse to accept that there is no room in democracy, when there are 17 million low wage workers who would have qualified for the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit. We refuse the contemptuous narrative that people do not deserve the funds to live with even a modicum of the wealth that you possess, and refuse [your] cynical view of people that says they cannot be trusted with even the barest necessary income. As a pastor, I know that I have to love the people. As a Senator, you have to represent the people, not be an enemy to the people, yet there seems to be no room in your heart — no room for poor people, no room for children.”
“Make room, Joe Manchin, open your heart,” she said. “Make room, or move over.”
The letter in its entirety can be viewed here: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/senator-manchin-we-refuse-to-accept-theres-no-room-in-the-democracy-for-all.