Civil Rights

RI Poor People’s Campaign demands that Reed and Whitehouse pass Build Back Better Act

“A budget is a moral document, and I’m a little bit tired hearing that we don’t have the money to pay for basic needs for people, but we have billions of dollars for the military-industrial complex,” said Angela Howard McParland, a Justice Resource Manager for Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. “I’m a little bit tired of hearing that we don’t have the money to give people housing, to give people paid family leave, when so many other countries have no problem doing this.”
Photo for RI Poor People’s Campaign demands that Reed and Whitehouse pass Build Back Better Act

Published on November 11, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

The Rhode Island Poor People’s Campaign – a National Call for Moral Revival – joined the nationwide Moral Witness Wednesday yesterday. The event, Economic Investment for the People, consisted of a rally across from the Providence office of Senator Jack Reed and a march down Westminster Street in Providence to the office of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.

The demand was that the Senators do whatever it takes to pass the Build Back Better Act. This economic investment package, which is the largest investment in people by the United States government in a generation, is necessary for the lives of the 140 million poor and low-income Americans, including close to 400,000 Rhode Island residents.

Pamela Poniatowski, one of the tri-chairs of the Rhode Island Poor People’s Campaign, lost her job after 20 years due to restructuring. She then had surgery and became disabled. As a consequence, she cannot afford an apartment and has been living in friends’ guest rooms. Poniatowski was wearing a tee shirt that said, “We won’t be silent anymore.”

“We need all of you to stand up with us, we can’t be silent anymore about the immoral things that are happening to people in this country,” said Poniatowski. “This is not the way we should be treating those among us that are weak and powerless.”

The Build Back Better Act is nowhere near what is needed to fully address poverty and low-wealth in this nation, says the Poor People’s Campaign. Nevertheless, they see it as an important step that will result in a massive investment in the people. The Poor People’s Campaign challenges the United States Senate to invest in the people and make sure all these elements and programs are included in the plan:

  • six million 3- & 4 year-olds will benefit from universal pre-K;
  • four million people get health insurance from Medicaid expansion;
  • Extension of the child tax credit for millions of parents;
  • $250 million saved by giving government power to negotiate drug prices; and
  • four-week paid family and medical leave.

“A budget is a moral document, and I’m a little bit tired hearing that we don’t have the money to pay for basic needs for people, but we have billions of dollars for the military-industrial complex,” said Angela Howard McParland, a Justice Resource Manager for Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. “I’m a little bit tired of hearing that we don’t have the money to give people housing, to give people paid family leave, when so many other countries have no problem doing this.”

The four million people who will get health insurance account for about 5% of the almost 80 million Americans who have no or inadequate health insurance. The $250 million for drugs constitutes less than 0.1% of what the United States spent on drugs in 2020. “However that may be,” writes the Poor People’s Campaign, “as both Judaism and Islam teach, saving a single life is like saving the whole world.” They note that the original Build Back Better Act featured twelve instead of four weeks of paid family and medical leave.

Congress, says the Poor People’s Campaign, must get its priorities in order and redirect resources from the war economy and militarism toward economic investment for the people. This must include mitigation of, and adaptation to the climate crisis. The Rhode Island Poor People’s Campaign is demanding that this be done in a way that guarantees a just transition for those working in sectors of reduced war economic activity. The campaign also demands that priority be given to people and planet in a way that benefits all, and in particular communities of color and poverty, the well-being of which is often neglected.

John Larkin, a war veteran from Providence, stressed that the issue of poverty cuts across political party lines. “We need to reallocate funds from the military, which is completely bloated,” said Larkin. “U.S. imperialism costs us trillions and we have killed millions of people both through sanctions and military action.”

The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival continues to demand action on voting rights; dignity and protections for all eleven million undocumented immigrants and climate protections that go beyond what’s in Build Back Better. This work continues as part of its one-year campaign toward a Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington on June 18, 2022, in Washington, DC.

Outside Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s downtown office

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