Report: The Poor People’s Campaign, 50 Years Later

In 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders launched a Poor People’s Campaign to organize towards transformative actions to end poverty, racism, and militarism in America.

While this effort was undercut by King’s assassination, two prominent faith leaders — the Rev. Liz Theoharis and the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II — are launching a new multi-issue, multi-racial Poor People’s Campaign to recapture the spirit of that 1968 campaign.

To support this modern-day Poor People’s Campaign, the Institute for Policy Studies has produced an analysis of the campaign’s four core issues: racism, poverty, the war economy/militarism, and ecological destruction. The report finds that by many measures, these problems are worse today than they were five decades ago.  

For example, the report documents the increased number of Americans below the poverty line; the acceleration of economic inequality; the emergence of new forms of voter suppression laws and mass incarceration that further entrench systemic racism in America; the growing imbalance in federal discretionary spending on the military relative to social programs; and the intensification of racial and income disparities in access to clean air and water and exposure to environmental hazards.

This report is a preliminary analysis for release at the launch of the new Poor People’s Campaign on December 4, 2017. A more in-depth “audit” of these issues, including testimonials from many of the leading activists and thinkers of the past 50 years, will be released in 2018.

Key initial findings:

  • Compared to 1968, 60% more Americans are living below the official poverty line today — a total of 41 million people. And while the percentage of families in poverty has merely inched up and down, the top 1 percent’s share of national income has nearly doubled.
  • More than 50 years after the Voting Rights Act, people of color still face a broad range of barriers to democracy. According to the Brennan Center, 23 states have adopted voter suppression laws since 2010.
  • The criminalization of poverty and racially biased sentencing and policing practices have driven the number of prison inmates up eightfold since 1968, with the share who are people of color increasing from less than half to 66%. Federal spending on prisons has increased tenfold in real terms since 1976.
  • Spending trends also reflect increased scapegoating of immigrants. Between 1976 and 2015, federal expenditures on border control and immigration enforcement rose eightfold while the number of deportees grew tenfold.
  • The gap between our government’s discretionary spending on the military versus anti-poverty programs has grown from two-to-one at the height of the Vietnam War to four-to-one today. In the meantime, millions of lives have been lost in wars that have made us no safer, while “real security” in the form of good jobs, health care, and quality education remains beyond the reach of millions of Americans.
  • Since 1968, the environment has become less polluted, but the poor and people of color are bearing the brunt of climate change and suffering the most from environmental hazards. According to the CDC, for example, at least four million families with children are being exposed to high levels of lead, with low-income and people of color at greatest risk. And low-income families and people of color tend to be more likely to have living conditions and jobs that increase the health risks of extreme heat.

Find the full preliminary analysis here [PDF].

The post Report: The Poor People’s Campaign, 50 Years Later appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

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Dozens of Worker Deaths and Six Years Later, Coal Exec Sentenced to Just One Year in Prison

mine-warning-sign

(Photo: Wikipedia)

Don Blankenship might finally see the inside of a prison cell. Six years after the tragic explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 workers, former Massey Energy CEO, Don Blankenship, has been found guilty of conspiring to violate mine safety laws.

The misdemeanor charge came with a one-year prison sentence, far less than the 30 years he could have faced had Blankenship been found guilty of the multiple felony charges brought against him. And far less than many think he deserves.

My colleague, Sam Pizzigati, wrote about Blankenship in a piece titled, “America’s Greediest: The 2011 Top Ten Edition.” He noted that Blankenship “pocketed $ 38.2 million from 2007 through 2009, after $ 34 million in 2005, and retired this past December with a $ 5.7 million pension, $ 12 million in severance, another $ 27.2 million in deferred pay, and a lush consulting agreement.”

He also noted that Massey Energy, the nation’s fourth largest coal producer, was found “directly to blame” for the deadly 2010 explosion. “Under Blankenship, Massey managers kept two sets of books, one accurate for internal use and another fake for regulators.”

Safety was a far second priority to maximizing profit for Blankenship and the workers that trusted him paid the ultimate price. In a searing interview following Blankenship’s sentencing, former Massey employee, Tommy Davis, recounts losing his brother, his nephew, and his son in the blast. Choking back tears, Davis recounts how Blankenship never once tried to contact him in the six years since their deaths.

“I miss my family. He hugged his. And all he gets is a year…There needs to be much stricter penalties for people like that who put greed and money over human life.”

It is rare that corporate executives are forced to take a perp walk. Remember all the Wall Street bankers brought out in handcuffs for tanking the global economy? Me neither.

According to federal regulators, Blankenship is the first high-ranking executive to be convicted of a workplace safety violation. His lawyer has vowed he will appeal the one-year prison sentence, the maximum allowable for the crime.

Don Blankenship will remain an exceptionally wealthy man and might still wiggle his way out of spending time behind bars. The judge that sentenced him denied requests for restitution both from the miners’ families and from the company Blankenship left behind, now in bankruptcy.

Tommy Davis is right; we need much stricter penalties for those who value profit over people. It shouldn’t take another tragedy like the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion to bring about this change.

The post Dozens of Worker Deaths and Six Years Later, Coal Exec Sentenced to Just One Year in Prison appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Chicago Sun-Times
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