Time for a healing

A woman in a white t-shirt stands on the steps leading to her trailer.
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
In this July 24, 2017 photograph, Otibehia Allen, a single mother of five, stands outside her rented mobile home in Jonestown, Miss.

Our country is wailing.  

Once again, innocent children are dying at the hands of school shooters, shattering families and communities. A white supremacist guns down Black shoppers at a supermarket, spouting hateful theories that are echoed in the rhetoric of politicians. Two years into a pandemic that has caused higher rates of death among poor counties, we have not seen any permanent expansion of health care. In fact, millions stand to lose their access to Medicaid when the public health emergency ends. Meanwhile, inflation and debt are forcing poor and low-income households to make terrible choices between paying for medication or utility bills, dinner or diapers. This ongoing violence continues amidst congressional inaction, despite broad public support for laws and policies that would lift these burdens for tens of millions of people.

As people of faith, we are pained by a society that devalues the lives of children and of the 140 million Americans who live in poverty or have such low incomes that they could not afford a $400 emergency. We must also call out the stark contrast between the policies and resources devoted to the poor and the hundreds of billions spent on weapons and war.

These are not isolated incidents or unrelated problems. They reflect what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called “the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism.”

It’s telling that our political leaders are willing to allow billionaires to increase their combined wealth by over $1.7 trillion during the pandemic, while 20 million households report having too little to eat in the past seven days. It’s no coincidence that in state after state, legislation is being introduced to make voting disproportionately difficult for Americans of color, while these same workers are paid lower wages, hold more dangerous jobs, face greater environmental hazards in their communities, and experience worse health outcomes. And it is shocking that the U.S. spent 7.5 times more on nuclear weapons — of which we already have more than enough to destroy the human race — than on global vaccines to save it.

Such deep racial, economic, political, and environmental injustices may be moral failings of long standing, but they are not without solutions. The Child Tax Credit, which was expanded under last year’s American Rescue Plan, brought nearly 4 million children above the poverty line and slashed food insufficiency by a quarter. But that expansion expired at the end of 2021. Congress failed to renew it.   

The same goes for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is one of our most successful anti-poverty programs. In 2018, it benefited more than 22 million working families and individuals while lifting about 5.6 million people above the poverty line, more than half children. The American Rescue Plan made the EITC even more effective and more racially equitable by expanding eligibility for childless workers. Yet, once again, Congress let it expire.   

We know our country can do better. As Dr. King said more than a half-century ago, “we now have the resources, we now have the skills, we now have the techniques to get rid of poverty.” What’s missing is the political will of our elected leaders, who are far too attentive to corporate lobbyists and far too insensitive to the daily struggles of poor and low-wage people of every race, gender, and ethnicity, including their own constituents.  

To achieve the world we seek, we cannot wait for better days. We must follow God’s calling to do right, seek justice, and correct these injustices. That’s why our organizations are working together to promote a moral economic agenda that centers the 140 million and brings people together instead of tearing them apart. 

This month, thousands of people from every state across this great nation will converge on Washington to demand a Third Reconstruction. Together, we will press for national healing by eliminating persistent racial inequities, guaranteeing a decent standard of living to all those living within our borders, protecting and expanding our civil and constitutional rights, and transforming the war and fossil fuel-based economy. Together, we will help the United States live up to its promise as a truly multi-racial, multi-ethnic democracy in which all people can realize their God-given potential.

Congress has failed to lead. But people of faith will not stand idly by. We invite you to join us in Washington on June 18 for the Mass Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls.

Bishop Barber is the president of Repairers of the Breach and a co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. Bridget Moix is the general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation and leads two other Quaker organizations, Friends Place on Capitol Hill and the FCNL Education Fund.

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