The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the recently launched Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, one of three kids in a family she describes as deeply committed to improving life for the excluded and marginalized.
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other peace and anti-apartheid activists were frequent guests in her home, and even as a child, Theoharis understood that religious faith — in her case, Presbyterian — had to be linked to social justice.
This coupling — faith and justice — led Theoharis to work with the National Union of the Homeless as a University of Pennsylvania undergraduate. “Their organizing was inspired by the Poor People’s Campaign led by Dr. King in 1967 and ’68, and I quickly learned the extent of the unfinished business that still needed to be done,” she begins.
By 2001, Theoharis was in New York City, attending Union Theological Seminary and studying “moments in history where poor people crossed racial and geographic lines” to foment change. Her work brought her into contact with scores of activists including the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, whose Moral Mondays protests in North Carolina helped lay the groundwork for the contemporary Poor People’s Campaign.
That campaign kicked off on December 4, 2017, with Theoharis and Barber at the helm. The challenge is enormous. Census figures from 2016 put 12.7 percent of US residents (43.1 million people) in poverty and want — living on an annual income of less than $15,060 for a single person, $30,750 for a household of four.
Theoharis recently spoke to AlterNet reporter Eleanor J. Bader about the campaign and the upcoming 40 Days of Action that will begin on Mother’s Day.
Eleanor J. Bader: What are the specific issues that the Poor People’s Campaign is focusing on?
Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis: We’re addressing five broad issue areas. The first is systemic racism, which we see as including voter…