Imam Khalid Fattah Griggs article on Poor People’s Campaign and ICNA CSJ


Date published: Thu, 21 May 20

America’s Moral Revival Call

At a November 1967 retreat for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. announced his intention to organize a national Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, DC scheduled for Mother’s Day, May 12, 1968. Following his April 4, 1967 speech at Riverside Church in Harlem where he forcefully denounced America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, Dr. King suffered a national disapproval rating of close to 75 percent. His more strident criticism of this country’s policies and practices were reflective of a(n) more matured (evolved) analysis of the actual capacity of non-violent civil disobedience alone to transform American society. “We have to go beyond moral persuasion to devise tactics, not to beg Congress for favors, but to create a situation in which they deem it wise and prudent to act with responsibility and decency…We have to move to the next phase of radical redistribution of economic and political power,” adding in another setting, “It’s nice to have an integrated lunch counter by I don’t want to find the milk served at the counter suffering from nuclear radiation.” Dr. King was never able to participate in the planned Poor People’s Campaign. Against protestations from SCLC staff and others, he went to Memphis, TN, after repeated appeals from the city’s sanitation workers, to demonstrate his support for the workers. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968 while he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel. Despite the tragic assassination, The Poor People’s Campaign was held establishing Resurrection City on the Washington Mall, a temporary encampment of tents, and wooden structures to house protestors. Thousand came to Washington, DC to meet with Senators, Congressmen, and other government officials to demand economic equality and removal of the structural barriers that impeded, if not prohibited, economic opportunities for all Americans. The protestors included persons from all races, ethnicities, and soci0-economic backgrounds

Fast Forward June 20, 2020

In 2013, Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II, a North Carolina-based ordained minister and activist, and then state president of the North Carolina NAACP and other social justice leaders started the Forward Together Moral Movement, nicknamed Moral Monday, a series of weekly protest on the grounds of the State Capital in Raleigh, NC. Over 1,000 religious leaders, laypersons, social activists, teachers, union members, voting rights advocates, elected officials, and others were willfully arrested as they silently protested harsh and immoral laws in the halls of the General Assembly. I was privileged to have been a frequent participant and speaker at Moral Monday events representing ICNA Council for Social Justice and the Muslim community. I believe that my and other Muslim participants helped to facilitate a better understanding of the role of Muslims in society and social change efforts. The 18 Moral Monday gatherings (evolved) grew into a genuine fusion movement of interests and constituencies at unprecedented levels in the state. The movement had grown out the statewide Historic Thousands on Jones Street Coalition. Starting out with 16 progressive statewide organizations, the coalition grew to more than 200 civic and religious organizations. Rev. Barber observed, “We recognized that many of the same political forces that are against gender rights are often also against education equality, environmental justice, and policies that help the poor.” Continuing, “…The Fusion coalition, avoiding partisan and ideological divisions and focusing on common moral and democratic values, stitched together a huge coalition of poor, wealthy, and middle class, medical professionals, and the uninsured, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and people from other faith traditions alongside non-religious citizens who shared their belief in a social order grounded in love.”

Rev. Barber, joining with Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-Director of the Kairos Center at Union Theological Seminary in New York, organized Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival scheduled for June 20,(space) 2020. Originally planned as a mass gathering in Washington, DC, the event was forced to reorganize as a digital mobilization due to the pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus. Still, the event is potentially the largest (digital) virtual social change gathering in the history of this nation. Rev. Barber readily acknowledges that Dr. King and the 50th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign were his inspirations to organize this year’s event. Rev. Barber and Rev. Theoharis have visited 25 cities conducting organizing sessions for national mobilization or the upcoming Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival on June 20. I have (been privileged to have) participated in a national planning session for the Campaign in Washington, DC as well as numerous telephone conferences. Br. Waqas Syed and other ICNA leaders and members have been involved (participated) in events leading up to the culminating digital gathering (event) on June 20, 2020.

Rev. Barber underscores the importance of activists not resting on our collective laurels by saying: “The duty of the living is not simply to recall the martyrs of the movement but to continue their work…”.