Shining a light on poverty: SCLC renews King's campaign

In the daunting heat of Jackson, Miss. this past weekend, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference relaunched a national campaign to help the poor: a modern-day "Poor People's Campaign," an initiative first envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s.

The original campaign aimed to reduce poverty in some of the poorest and hard-hit areas across the country. It was to include a march on Washington in 1968, but King was killed in Memphis, Tenn. before that could take place. With the national recession deepening, SCLC members see this as a prime moment to push the issue of solving poverty back into the national discussion. Initially focused on several states in the South includingMississippi, Alabama, Florida and Louisiana, the campaign aims tohighlight the persistent problem of poverty in the United States andto break the silence around it.

As the federal government focuses on bailing out corporations, interim SCLC President Rev. Byron Clay said that America's poor have been left to fend for themselves. "The working families in this nation are in deep trouble,'' Clay told the Associated Press.

The new Poor People's Campaign's first major event was a June 20 march and rally through Jackson, where about 1,000 civil rights activists, faith leaders, and community members marched to the steps of the state Capitol. Mississippi leads the nation in poverty and that's why the campaign was being renewed in Jackson, Clay explained. The SCLC wanted to marchers to learn first-hand about the impoverished conditions in the state, which ranks last in the nation on overall human development. Organizers said areas like the Mississippi Delta need extra resources to help them recruit doctors and teachers.

At the Jackson march, the SCLC called for increased funding for health and social services, and announced plans to take the campaign to Washington and challenge Congress to help the poor. "Poverty is a national epidemic that must be addressed," Clay told the AP.

The SCLC is urging President Obama to establish a presidential commission on poverty and is seeking congressional hearings to explore ways to combat the poverty created by the millions of jobs lost since the economy began sliding into recession in December 2007. The SCLC also plans to hold a march and poverty hearings at their national convention in Memphis in August.