Feature: "Money for the poor, not for war" -- Americans rally against economic inequality

By Xiong Maoling, Sun Ding (Xinhua) 09:36, June 21, 2022

WASHINGTON, June 20 (Xinhua) -- Adrienne J. Gaymon came here to speak up for the poor.

"Let our voices be heard, knowing that enough is enough," Gaymon told Xinhua at the Poor People's and Low-Wage Workers' Assembly and Moral March on Washington over the weekend.

Gaymon sat through an eight-hour bus ride from Columbia, South Carolina, to join thousands of Americans in downtown Washington D.C. for the rally.

She criticized what she called tax breaks for the rich and the rising cost of living, while "nothing's being done to help those that are struggling."

"For those who say we have a deficit of resources, I say absolutely not. The deficit is in the human will," Bernice King, the youngest child of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., told the rally, urging an "immediate abolition of poverty."

Protestors held signs with messages such as "money for the poor, not for war," "stop racism now" and "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," shedding light on a wide range of issues that affect poor Americans.

Participants demanded the U.S. government cut military spending and boost investment in education, health care, housing, transportation and other public services to raise living standards, especially for those at the bottom.

Gloria Brandman, a retired school teacher from New York City, held a banner that read, "Move the Money From War to Our Communities." She is among a coalition pushing to make the New York City Council approve a related resolution.

"It's just a shame that in our country, the money, our taxes, so much of it, 16 percent of it is going to pay the Pentagon, and the Pentagon budget is not always used for helpful things at all," Brandman told Xinhua.

According to CODEPINK, a women-led grassroots organization, less than 3 percent of the 2022 Pentagon budget could end homelessness in the United States. The government could cancel all student debt for the total cost of its failed F-35 fighter jet program.

In a budget proposal for the fiscal year 2023 unveiled in late March, the White House plans to spend 813.3 billion dollars for "national defense," an increase of 30.7 billion dollars, or 4.1 percent from what has been enacted for the previous fiscal year.

Brandman noted that she thinks economic inequality has widened, with a small percentage of people at the top owning "a huge percentage" of the wealth in this country.

"So many people are just struggling right now, and we've seen the pandemic has just made it even worse for everyone, especially people without the money to take the precautions that they need," Brandman said.

"We are the richest country in the world, and our people are struggling," she said.

By 2018, the top 1 percent of U.S. households secured 16.4 percent of income, up from 8.9 percent in 1979, according to a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute.

Moreover, lower-income households are disproportionately feeling the burden of high inflation. Lower-income families spend a greater share of their income on necessities, have smaller financial cushions and may have less ability to switch to lower-priced alternatives, U.S. Federal Reserve Vice Chair Lael Brainard said.

Donyell Smith, who joined the assembly from Indiana after a 12-hour bus ride, told Xinhua that the rising cost of living has made life more challenging. He lost his job during the pandemic and now works for a government program to hand out free phones to low-income people.

"I was working 40 hours a week, now sometimes I put in 60 just to meet ends," Smith said. "More hours at work, less sleep, less time with your family in order to support them now," he added.

In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. organized low-income Americans in a march on Washington known as the "Poor People's Campaign," declaring that "silence was betrayal." Thousands of protesters have now gathered to revive the message.

Racial inequality was another focus of the rally.

"Since the beginning of time, African Americans were enslaved," said Gaymon, who is African American. "There's so much systematic racism that makes it hard for people to do better."

Aretha Fox-Jones, who sat through a nine-hour bus ride from Florence, Kentucky, with her husband Theodore to join the event, told Xinhua that she grew up poor in Chicago, Illinois, and was brought up in a public housing project.

Citing a speech by civil rights leader Jesse Jackson decades ago, Fox-Jones said, "I may be poor, I may be black, but I am somebody." 

(Web editor: Peng Yukai, Liang Jun)


Related Stories