50 Years Beginning Today

50 Years — December 4, 1967 to December 4, 2017

On December, 4, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. officially launched the Poor Peoples Campaign. From his December 4th statement:

“Ladies and Gentlemen -

Last week the staff of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference held one of the most important meetings we have ever convened. We had intensive discussions and analyses of our work and of the challenges which confront us and our nation, and at the end we made a decision which I wish to announce today.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference will lead waves of the nation’s poor and disinherited to Washington, D. C., next spring to demand redress of their greivances by the United States government and to secure at least jobs or income for all.

We will go there, we will demand to be heard, and we will stay until America responds. If this means forcible repression of our movement, we will confront it, for we have done this before. If this means scorn or ridicule, we embrace it, for that is what America’s poor now receive. If it means jail, we accept it willingly, for the millions of poor already are imprisoned by exploitation and discrimination. But we hope, with growing confidence, that our campaign in Washington will receive at first a sympathetic understanding across our nation, followed by dramatic expansion of nonviolent demonstrations in Washington and simultaneous protests elsewhere. In short, we will be petitioning our government for specific reforms, and we intend to build militant nonviolent actions until that government moves against poverty.

We have now begun preparations for the Washington campaign. Our staff soon will be taking new assignments to organize people to go to Washington from 10 key cities and 5 rural areas. This will be no mere one-day march in Washington, but a trek to the nation’s capital by suffering and outraged citizens who will go to stay until some definite and positive action is taken to provide jobs and income for the poor.”

Later on, Dr. King dispatched one of his trusted assistants, Bernard Lafayette, to travel the country to invite non-black leaders of poor people to Atlanta in mid-March for a strategic summit around this Poor Peoples march on, and occupation of, Washington D.C.

“At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965–68” is the final part of a Pulitzer Prize winning trilogy using Moses and the journey towards the Promised Land as a metaphor for Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. The first two volumes are “Parting The Waters: America in the King Years 1955–63” and “Pillar Of Fire: America in the King Years 1963–65”.

An excerpt from “At Canaan’s Edge” about what happened mid-March in Atlanta:

“…Tijerina asked what mention of land issues would be offered in return for nonviolent discipline, and King said the answer flowed from the movement’s nature: a common willingness to sacrifice put all their grievances on equal footing. On reflection, Tijerina proposed that particular stories from Native American groups be dramatized first in Washington, followed by black people second and his own Spanish-speaking groups last. His offer, which deferred both to historical order and the spirit of King’s presentation, received acclamation that extended to Chicano leaders sometimes at odds with Tijerina, such as Corky Gonzalez of Denver. The summit closed on a wave of immense relief. Myles Horton, who helped recruit the white Appalachians expressed euphoria after nearly four decades of cross-cultural isolation at his Highlander Center. ‘I believe we caught a glimpse of the future,’ he told Andrew Young.”

Less than three weeks later, April 4th, Dr. King was assassinated and this strategy collapsed.

Rev. William Barber, President of the North Carolina NAACP, began “Moral Mondays” in 2013, a non-violent confrontation of the North Carolina state government, and it spread to other states. Over the past year, Rev. Barber has been preparing for the “Poor Peoples Campaign: a national call for moral revival”. On December 4th, 2017, Rev. Barber launched this new Poor Peoples Campaign from Washington D.C.

In Los Angeles, nine groups co-sponsored a gathering at Union Church, on the border of Little Tokyo and Skid Row in Downtown, to watch the national launch on a big screen.

From December 3rd New York Times:

Ministers Look To Revive Martin Luther King’s 1968 Poverty Campaign

“On Monday, exactly 50 years after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began his Poor Peoples Campaign, the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, a white theologian originally from Milwaukee, will announce a revival of Dr. King’s campaign, which stalled when he was assassinated in 1968.

Organizers now hope to mount large protests on 40 consecutive days next year, in at least 25 state capitals and other locations, with crowds in the tens of thousands courting arrest.

“Nothing is going to change until we put a face on it, until we drive the public discourse, until we restart the moral narrative,” Dr. Barber said in an interview.

The campaign, which falls in an especially charged midterm election year, includes plans to converge in a march in Washington in June.”

In the Bible, Judaism, the number 50 means Jubilee.

From the Book of Leviticus:

8 “‘Count off seven sabbath years — seven times seven years — so that the seven sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years. 9 Then have the trumpetsounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. 10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. 11 The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. 12 For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.

13 In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to their own property.

14 “‘If you sell land to any of your own people or buy land from them, do not take advantage of each other. 15 You are to buy from your own people on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And they are to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. 16 When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what is really being sold to you is the number of crops. 17 Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the Lord your God.

25 “‘If one of your fellow Israelites becomes poor and sells some of their property, their nearest relative is to come and redeem what they have sold.26 If, however, there is no one to redeem it for them but later on they prosperand acquire sufficient means to redeem it themselves, 27 they are to determine the value for the years since they sold it and refund the balance to the one to whom they sold it; they can then go back to their own property. 28 But if they do not acquire the means to repay, what was sold will remain in the possession of the buyer until the Year of Jubilee. It will be returned in the Jubilee, and they can then go back to their property.

35 “‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. 36 Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so that they may continue to live among you. 37 You must not lend them money at interest or sell them food at a profit. 38 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.

39 “‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. 40 They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. 41 Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors. 42 Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. 43 Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.”

Under the Law of Moses, every seventh year is the Shmita year. In that year, the land is to be at rest, a Sabbath. Seven Shmitas is 49 years and the following year, the 50th year, is the Year of Jubilee.

The Year of Jubilee is a Year of Justice. Jubilee restores the proper order of life. Priorities align. Joyous action follows clarity. Slavery is dealt with. Land ownership is dealt with.

50 Years Beginning Today is more than strategy. It’s more than a device to invoke history. 50 years after December 4, 1967 is destiny.

Skid Row artist and activist