Updated: Jul 12
In June, Rev. Joe Paparone, Lead Organizer at LRC and Tri-chair of the New York State Poor People’s Campaign, joined the New York State delegation to the 2023 Poor People’s Campaign Moral Poverty Action Congress in Washington, D.C. Over the course of three days, the New York State delegation—and everyone else at the Congress—attended a plenary hosted by Bishop William J Barber II, visited members of the House of Representatives and Senate, and discussed their visions for the work that lays ahead.
Read on for a more detailed report on each day of the 2023 Moral Poverty Action Congress and links to recordings from the week!
DAY 1 - Monday, June 19
On the first day of the Moral Poverty Action Congress, participants attended a plenary session moderated by Bishop William J. Barber II. Titled “The Moral Mandate for Ending Poverty in America,” the plenary panel included David Brady, Valerie Wilson, Gregg Gonsalves, Valerie Eguavoen, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. As we know, poverty is the fourth leading cause of death in America—and yet our nation’s leaders refuse to address it as so. It’s clear to members of the Poor People’s Campaign—and other advocates across the country—that there’s not a scarcity of resources, but a scarcity of political will to address the problem.
You can watch a recording of the plenary session here.
DAY 2 - Tuesday, June 20
On Day 2, local Poor People’s Campaign leaders—including directly impacted people, faith leaders, and advocates—visited members of the House and Senate. Legislators from more than 30 states were present to meet with PPC delegates, who were demanding that they use their power to address poverty. Poverty kills more people in America every year than homicides but gets significantly less attention from politicians and the media.
The tri-chairs of the New York State Poor People’s Campaign were joined by the Campaign’s national co-chairs for a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.
Following the legislative visits directly impacted people and faith leaders held a funeral procession to the Capitol, where participants spoke about the reality faced by members of their communities: that for many, poverty is an American death sentence. Others addressed how interlocking injustices—like poverty and healthcare injustice—have impacted their lives and their families.
Maria Pineda, a Long Island resident, represented New York State saying, “I was a public school teacher with a three-bedroom house, a car, and good health insurance. Then I was hospitalized with COVID pneumonia and developed sepsis. I continued to teach remotely, posting lessons online daily and even attending faculty meetings remotely from the COVID unit. However, my health continued to decline. First I suffered a miscarriage. I kept getting sicker, but the doctors insisted that my ongoing chest pain and shortness of breath were caused by anxiety. Instead of further testing, they simply prescribed Paxil. What we didn’t realize was that COVID was slowly filling my lungs with blood clots.
Eventually, one of the six clots lodged in my pulmonary artery, resulting in acute respiratory failure with hypoxia. Ultimately I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Despite all this, my school district never put me out on disability. My social security disability application and subsequent appeal were both denied. I have not received a paycheck since October 2020. In November 2020 my school started charging me over $3,000 a month for COBRA. I had to resort to a GoFundMe in order to raise the money needed to keep our health insurance. Eventually, I had to give up my teacher's health insurance and apply for Medicaid. With my old health insurance, I had in-home physical therapy twice a week, weekly skilled nursing, monthly social work, and remote monitoring of my vitals three times a day.”
DAY 3 - Wednesday, June 21
On the third and final day of the Congress, we attended another plenary where we shared report-backs from the previous days’ legislative visits, and began to discuss the vision for the work ahead. Rev. Barber grounded us in a history of the First and Second Reconstructions and then laid out a plan for the coming year, including:
Growing the coordinating committees of every state
Expanding our social media reach
Holding coordinated actions in State Capitols in 2024
Building towards another Mass Poor People’s and Low-Wage Worker’s March on Washington, and to the Polls on June 15, 2024.
Following the plenary, our state delegation gathered to share our individual reflections and thoughts and then broke for the afternoon. We reconvened in the evening for dinner, and to celebrate our final night at the Congress with music and dancing!
Ultimately, the Moral Poverty Action Congress served as an energizing convening of hundreds of poor and dispossessed leaders from around the country. The New York State delegation was made up of seasoned Poor People’s Campaign leaders, as well as new participants and emerging leaders. These kinds of gatherings help ground our work in New York in the “big picture” vision of the movement to end poverty, create connections and friendships across state lines, and provide opportunities to share experiences and lessons learned. Notable growing formations within the Poor People’s Campaign included the Nonviolent Medicaid Army and the National Union of the Homeless, which held informal gatherings and modeled cross-state unity and support in organizing. Additionally, the NYS Poor People’s Campaign 2023 Poor People’s State of the State Report generated enthusiasm and inspiration among leaders from other states.
The New York State delegation faced numerous logistical challenges during the Congress. Three of our members ended up in the hospital at various points! (Everyone was ok, and able to return to participating in the Congress). Throughout, the NYSPPC leaders stepped up to both care for one another and remain focused on necessary tasks: sharing information, preparing for congressional visits, staying with our members while they waited in the emergency room, and making sure food and other supports were available as needed. These challenges, and the organic ways our delegation rose to meet them, demonstrated a cohesion and community focus that will be essential going forward as we build this movement.