Over the past couple of months, a local chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign has taken root in the Shenandoah Valley, gaining members as they seek to promote change. WMRA’s Mike Tripp has the story.
[A.J. YOUNG] So tonight, we have come together. We are black. We are white. We are gay. We are straight. We have faith. We have no faith. We are young, and we are seasoned. We are Buddhist. We are Christians. We are Hindus. We are Scientologists. We are Catholics. We are Baptists. We are all of a large variety.
A.J. Young of Waynesboro addresses those gathered for the kickoff event of the Shenandoah Valley chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign, held end of January. His words describe the mixed crowd of more than 100 in attendance, gathered at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waynesboro. Linda Revis of Craigsville stands among them, listening.
LINDA REVIS: After the election, I was pretty disillusioned by the turnout in the Valley. So I decided rather than politics, I wanted to put my energy into something else to effect change.
One day when Revis was sitting together with friends, she heard them talking about the Rev. William J. Barber II of the Poor People’s Campaign who had been at Union Hill helping fight the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
REVIS: They were talking about how charismatic he was and he was really doing this great thing.
It left her curious enough to investigate, and she continued to talk with her friends about it.
REVIS: We just decided as a group of about six or eight of us … We’re gonna do this. It just seemed like a good way to raise the voice of so many of the issues that’s wrong with our country today.
In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. called for a “revolution of values” in America, leading to the birth of the Poor People’s Campaign.
REVIS: They gathered other people from the faith community, and they just kept building upon that. We started out a little bit differently, so we aren’t based out of a church or anything.
The national website for the Poor People’s Campaign carries King’s vision forward, identifying not just racial injustice in the U.S., but also systemic poverty, war and ecological devastation as [quote] “interlocking evils.” They state they are not an organization, but an all-inclusive, moral movement. A campaign that advocates and lobbies on behalf of policies that impact poor, low wealth, and vulnerable people.
[YOUNG] Can I teach ya’ll one more thing? Ok, I’m gonna shout … “Forward together.” You all say, “Not one step back.” You ready? … Forward together!
[CROWD] Not one step back!
[YOUNG] Ohhh! Ya’ll sound good! … Forward together!
[CROWD] Not one step back!
[YOUNG] Forward together!
[CROWD] Not one step back!
[YOUNG] Alright. Alright. Alright. Give yourself a big, great big, great great hand slap.
Young works as a meter tech at the University of Virginia. Although experienced as an associate pastor, he has grown increasingly dissatisfied over the past few years with the way that mainstream churches seem not to address what he sees are the horrible moral and politicized issues affecting America. Maybe this is why hearing Barber speak resonated.
YOUNG: And they were sharing about this campaign Dr. King started back in ‘68. And we thought … Hey this might be something to plug in. We were looking for something that is exclusive … something without walls. Something where we could come in and grow and just get right to work instead of trying to reinvent the wheel and try to come up with ideas. Plug in and see what the campaign is all about, and that is how we got started. This organization means to me that people from diverse backgrounds can work together.
That sense of purpose reached April Cordell-Bryant. Today a Licensed Professional Counselor in a civilian practice, April spent 16 years serving in the U.S. military. As a lesbian she noticed a difference, while stationed in Europe, in how people treat one another there versus here.
APRIL CORDELL-BRYANT: I’ve not only lived through a lot of injustices. I’ve witnessed a lot of them. Especially in our country. Having experienced a lot of things in Europe, you see a greater sense of community. And you come back here and everybody is very much out for what they can get. And so we were all just weak and insignificant. Just screaming in the night, and nobody could hear you.
She says for her, one appeal of the Poor People’s Campaign is how it combines individual issues into a common effort.
CORDELL-BRYANT: This is saying … Take a moment, set your stuff aside, fight for everybody. Everybody has equality. Then you can have your different viewpoints. You’ve got to start somewhere so that you earn the right to have that. This is one of the first movements where I think we have a chance.
A.J. Young agrees.
YOUNG: Regardless of your race. Regardless of your religion. Regardless of your gender, your sexual orientation … Unity wins the day. And I’m really excited about that. That’s what brings me joy in this movement -- is seeing so much diversity, and people who want to take humanity back. Whether you are Democrat or Republican. Rich or poor.
Linda Revis has her eye on future generations.
REVIS: I’ve got two grandchildren, and it’s like … this is not an OK world for my grandchildren to live in. Things have to change. And so in searching for something, it’s like … This is the right thing for me to do. We’re gonna do this.
The Shenandoah Valley group has grown to more than 280 followers on their Facebook page, in addition to others off line.
REVIS: We’re just very excited, ‘cause we’re just really growing. There’s a lot of enthusiasm.