Bishop William J. Barber II speaks at the rally on the steps of L.A. City Hall. (Steve/PaveyPoor People’s Campaign)

Crowds of people descended upon downtown Los Angeles on May 16 as part of the Moral Monday March sponsored by the Poor People’s Campaign, a national movement to confront racism, poverty, and other ills destroying communities across America.

With Bishop William J. Barber II, a campaign co-chair, leading the charge, the participants marched one-half mile down Spring Street and then gathered at City Hall to hear speakers appeal to every level of government to immediately enact legislation to aid those in need.

“What does a nation do when 140 million people are poor or low-wealth; when people die from poverty and when the poor die of COVID at rates up to five times higher than the wealthy; and when voting rights, living wages, immigrant justice and women’s rights are under attack,” implored Barber.

A big crowd participates in the Moral Monday March. (Steve Pavey/Poor People’s Campaign)

“We have to keep organizing and mobilizing. This is why we have discerned that we must have a Mass Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls in this moment – to put a face on these numbers, to call for a moral reset and so that the rejected of every race, along with people of faith and people of deep moral concern- – advocates we must have massive moral meeting to launch a season of deep commitment to help save the heart and soul of this nation and democracy,” he insisted.

The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, also co-chair of the event, delivered an equally passionate call for changes in the treatment of poor and low-income people. She also noted the biblical roots of rallying to demand justice for people existing on the margins of society.

“Right before Jesus was killed, he was protesting and marching into Jerusalem. … and folks got nervous that people were organizing and said, you’ve got to stop them. And Jesus replied: if these were silent, the stones would cry out,” declared Theoharis.

Curtis Freeman told about his imminent eviction from government housing. (Steve Pavey/Poor People’s Campaign)

Those crying out included Dr. Wendsler Nosie Sr. of the Apache Stronghold, who said evil sits in the corporate world that we live in that dismantles you as a person, and as a community, and as a family. Those are the things that we have to directly recognize and if we recognize that then we know the road that we should be on and it’s going to require every one of us. … This is the time – you are born in this moment. We are here in this moment to fight the greatest evil.”

Monday’s action called attention to the needs of the 20 million – or 51% – of Californians who are poor or low-income and the 140 million people nationally who were poor or low-income before COVID, according to reports issued by the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival (PPC:NCMR).

The march came as the nation hit 1 million COVID deaths and several weeks after the PPC:NCMR released the Poor People’s Pandemic Report,  which showed deadly disparities between COVID deaths in wealthier counties vs. poorer ones.

Bishop William J. Barber II speaks at the rally on the steps of L.A. City Hall. (Steve/PaveyPoor People’s Campaign)

Highlighting the wealth disparities that exist among California residents, speakers noted that the state generates $3.4 trillion, ranking California as the fifth-largest economy in the world. “And yet, a father of four suffering from COVID-19 was sent home to die because the doctor said it would be too expensive to treat him,” said his widow said during the rally in Los Angeles.

Another speaker emphasized that “poverty is not a personal choice, but a policy choice.”  He noted that these policies were devastating communities even before the COVID-19 pandemic, “with 250,000 dying from poverty each year in the U.S.

Curtis Freeman of the Sacramento PPC said he’s in temporary housing that’s been federally funded by the government. The arrangements were supposed to lead to permanent housing, but the government is ending the program and residents will have to pay $800 a month to stay or be evicted.

“And at the end of the day, they’re saying that they run out of funds. They run out of funds for housing for us. So this coming July 1st, they’re putting out,” he said.

Lamenting the number of homeless individuals living on the streets surrounding City Hall, Bartholomey Perez of Fight for 15 Los Angeles remarked,  “It is amazing that we are in front of the building where laws are made, in the shadow of the place where the economy is ruled and we are surrounded by poverty.”

Nourbese Flint, senior director of Black leadership and engagement for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, added another perspective, saying, “I know for far too long, we have been told that if we pull our bootstraps, worked hard, that we too can have a piece of the American dream.

“And I know that for far too long, that contract has been broken. As we stand here in Los Angeles with the largest homeless population in the country, where you can work 80 hours a week and still not have ends meet, there are too many of us that don’t have boots to strap up. We have done everything they asked of us and still continue to be let down by some politicians that are playing political games with our very real lives,” she stressed.

The PPC stop in Los Angeles is part of the campaign’s Mobilization Tour, which previously featured rallies in Cleveland, OH; Madison, WI; Raleigh, NC; New York City and Philadelphia.   The next march will occur on May 23 in Memphis, TN.  The tour will culminate with a huge rally on June 18 in Washington D.C.