News Release

Poor People’s Campaign and Military Spending


See from NPR “50 Years Later, Reviving King’s Poor People’s Campaign.” And from Common Dreams: “Hundreds of Poor People’s Campaign Activists Got Themselves Arrested for Racial Justice.”

PHYLLIS BENNIS, pbennis at ips-dc.org, @phyllisbennis@unitethepoor
Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-author of the report “The Souls of Poor Folk.” She just wrote a piece with Rev. William Barber Jr., who is president of Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.

“The Souls of Poor Folk” is an assessment of “the conditions and trends of poverty today and of the past fifty years in the United States. In 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., alongside a multiracial coalition of grassroots leaders, religious leaders, and other public figures, began organizing with poor and marginalized communities across racial and geographic divides. Together, The Poor People’s Campaign aimed to confront the underlying structures that perpetuated misery in their midst.”

They write: “The Pentagon says the war in Afghanistan will cost us $45 billion this year alone. If we didn’t spend that money on an unwinnable war thousands of miles away, what could we do with it instead?

“For starters, we could hire 556,779 well-paid elementary school teachers in struggling states like Oklahoma, Kentucky and West Virginia, where teachers have protested abysmal conditions. Or create 809,999 new well-paid jobs to rebuild infrastructure like the broken water system in Flint, Michigan.

“Or provide 4.36 million veterans with health care. Now that would be something.

“And that’s just for one year of one war. All told, our full $700 billion-plus military budget sucks up 53 cents out of every discretionary dollar in the federal budget — compared to just 15 cents for poverty alleviation. Our troops and Afghan civilians pay the price, but so do the 140 million Americans living in poverty or with very low incomes.

“When people talk about universal health care, education, infrastructure and debt-free college, the conversation usually ends with ‘too bad we can’t afford it, we don’t have the money.’

“But that’s not true. We have plenty of money — the United States is the wealthiest country in the history of the world. What we don’t have is a moral compass that recognizes that spending more than half of the available funds on a giant military mired in wars that don’t keep us safe is wrong.”