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King's 'Poor People's Campaign' Revived In Kansas, Elsewhere

Celia Llopis-Jepsen
Kansas News Service
Advocates for the poor came to Topeka to say they're ready to hit state capitols with '60s-style protests to force policies that help the poor.

Sit-ins and other protests over poverty and racial equality could be coming to the Kansas Statehouse, clergy and civil rights activists said Monday.

They promised to bring the same level of attention to the issues that the causes garnered when Martin Luther King Jr. championed them a half-century ago in his Poor People’s Campaign.

The effort is an updated version of King’s campaign by the same name. It emphasizes higher minimum wages, lower barriers to voting and an end to disproportionate incarceration of minorities.

Darnell Hunt, an activist from Olathe, said the United States has the wealth to better tackle societal problems.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have a living wage,” Hunt said. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have health care for all.”

But in Kansas, the political hurdles could be significant. Higher minimum wages face opposition from employers who say it could force them to cut jobs. And governments and businesses already struggle to meet existing health care costs.

King worked on the Poor People’s Campaign in the months leading up to his April 4, 1968, assassination.

The 2018 version is led by the Revs. William Barber of North Carolina and Liz Theoharis of New York.

In Kansas, participants kicked off their work Monday by gathering at the Statehouse in Topeka where they gave lawmakers a letter calling for state policies addressing poverty and inequality.

Organizers say similar events were planned for the same day in 31 other states.

In May and June, the Poor People’s Campaign plans to launch six weeks of civil disobedience to push for change in state legislatures and Washington, D.C.

“This is about morality,” Hunt said. “We can have a better society.”


Celia Llopis-Jepsen is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @Celia_LJ

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.


Celia Llopis-Jepsen is based in the Kansas News Service’s Topeka newsroom. She writes about how the world is transforming around us, from topsoil loss and invasive species to climate change. He aims to explain why these stories matter to Kansas, and to report on the farmers, ranchers, scientists and other engaged people working to make Kansas more resilient. Email me at celia@kcur.org.