Ten Democratic presidential candidates will face questions from low-income Americans at a forum hosted by the Poor People's Campaign on Monday to discuss issues which directly affect 140 million poor and low-income people living in the United States.
The presidential forum will take place on the first day of a three-day "Poor People's Moral Action Congress" which will include a hearing before the House Budget Committee. The ten presidential candidates attending are former Vice President Joe Biden; Sens. Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Michael Bennet; former HUD Secretary Julián Castro; Rep. Eric Swalwell; Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam; Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang.
and in particular have focused their campaigns on combating economic inequality and the systematic disadvantages faced by low-income Americans.
The Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is a revival of the campaign started by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and stalled by his assassination in 1968. The modern iteration of the campaign was created to tackle core issues including systemic racism, economic inequality, militarism, ecological devastation and Christian nationalism. It was founded by two progressive Christian leaders, Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis.
"During the 2016 Presidential primaries and campaign, there were 26 televised debates, but not a single hour was devoted to how candidates would address America's poverty," Barber said in a statement announcing the forum. "Republicans talk about the economy, while Democrats speak of the middle class. Nobody talks about the poor. The Poor People's Campaign is organizing across lines created to divide us and we're forcing those in power to listen."
The prominence of this forum demonstrates how several candidates are looking to engage Christian progressives, as a corollary to the power Christian conservatives have in influencing the Republican Party. The modern iteration of the Poor People's Movement focuses on addressing fundamental moral issues as laid out in the Bible.
Barber has accused many on the Christian right of "hijacking" faith to advance political positions such as opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. He has argued that religious leaders should be focusing on issues which Jesus Christ explicitly promoted in the Bible instead: helping the poor and the downtrodden, and loving your neighbor as yourself.
"For too long our nation's politics has been defined by an us versus them mentality, falsely dividing us along the lines of left versus right; conservative versus liberal; Democrat versus Republican," Barber said in the statement announcing the event. "Partisan language like this is too puny to address the problems we face as a nation. The solutions to our greatest challenges of systemic racism, poverty and voter suppression don't lie with the left or the right, they can be found at our shared moral center."