On Saturday, June 18, thousands came to the mall in Washington, D.C., to protest poverty and growing inequality in the United States, and to demand that the government take action to better the lives of millions of working and other poor people. It was organized by the Poor People’s Campaign, and was billed as a Mass Poor People’s + Low Wage Workers’ Assembly: A March on Washington and to the Polls. It was scheduled on the weekend of the Juneteenth holiday, celebrating the end of chattel slavery in the United States.
There was little press coverage of the march. The crowd seemed to many participants to be in the tens of thousands. There were many older veterans of struggles for social justice. There were many young people, from young children with their families to many high school and college students. It was diverse racially and ethnically, although it appeared that Black activists were a small majority. Many of the participants were religious, mirroring many of the campaign’s leaders, and many were working people who were members of unions like the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) and AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees). People had travelled from at least 40 states, with many coming from nearby states including New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and North Carolina.
The crowd and speakers were passionate and hopeful. They demanded a living wage, cuts to the U.S. military budget, a universal health care system, reforms to labor laws to make it easier for workers to organize, an end to fossil fuel use, and more. While many of the speakers were religious leaders, many were workers telling their stories and demanding change.
It was great to see the determination of thousands of exploited and oppressed people taking precious time out of their busy lives to tell it like it is to the powers-that-be in Washington, DC.
We must show the world we won’t take it anymore. But the changes we need won’t come with marching “to the polls” to vote for the same Democrat and Republican politicians who have promised changes before. In many ways, things are worse now than ever. Republican politicians have been rolling back voting rights and Democratic Party politicians have not made a serious effort to stop them. Republicans attack reproductive rights and Democrats have found no way to halt them, despite a large majority of the country favoring abortion rights. The politicians’ so-called minimum wage is not a living wage. Racist police murders are just as common today as before the Minneapolis cops killed George Floyd. Neither of the two major parties has taken serious action to stop climate catastrophe and save our world. For real change, change that improves our daily lives and stops the exploitation and exhaustion that we all feel living in this system, we will need to do more than go to the polls. We can’t trust politicians of either party to do what we want.
For real change, we need to organize ourselves and use our power where it counts, and where we have it the most: in the streets, in our workplaces, and throughout our communities. We do the work that makes society function. The bosses and their politicians can’t make things run and produce their obscene profits without us working. When we rely on ourselves and build our own movements and our own power, then change will come. We can’t rely on so-called “political leaders.” We can only rely on ourselves.