Politics & Elections

RI Poor People’s Campaign encourages poor and low-wage workers to vote their demands

“Our votes are our demands. And our demands have not been met yet.”

Published on October 15, 2022
By Peter Nightingale and Steve Ahlquist

Rhode Island residents marched in Providence on a sunny Saturday as the Rhode Island Poor People’s Campaign participated in a national Get Out The Vote action on capital city streets across the country. These marches and protests are to encourage poor and low-income people – and unlikely voters – to follow up their voter registration by casting their ballots. These coordinated, same-day actions, which started at noon in each time zone, are part of the work done by the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. These events will reach out to five million people with the theme of If We Ever Needed to Vote for Democracy and Justice, We Sure Do Need to Vote Now!

Shortly after noon the march began at Burnside Park near Kennedy Plaza and ended on the south lawn of the Rhode Island State House. Here, people described how voting addresses issues that impact their daily lives. Speakers emphasized that their votes are not political support, but instead are demands that the issues of low-income people and low-wage workers must be at the center of our national conversation.

“We are here as part of an awareness based collective action that is happening in over 40 states right now. We are here as part of an awareness-based collective action that is happening in over 40 states right now, in Washington to Maine, California to Florida, Texas to Wisconsin, New York Massachusetts, Oklahoma and West Virginia, and now here in Rhode Island!” said Pamela Poniatowski, a co-chair of the Rhode Island Poor People’s Campaign. “We are here to say that, ‘Our votes are our demands. And our demands have not been met yet.’

“Five interlocking injustices are the basis for our justice movement, which was started by Martin Luther King Jr. We are still seeing systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation and the denial of healthcare, militarism and the war economy and the false moral narrative of religious nationalism in our country,” continued Poniatowski. “We are here to put a face on the five interlocking injustices we are seeing here in Rhode Island as well as the rest of the country, and the way to change them is for the people to rise up together to show a different way, a way towards justice, to change the narrative as we think about what we want our future to hold for our children and grandchildren. Poor and low wealth voters have the power to change the outcome of elections, as we saw in 2020, we have been waking the sleeping giant: 27.5 million low propensity voters came out to vote that year and we need to remind them that we need them to vote in the midterm elections.”

Barbara Fleury, working with the George Wiley Center, presented a poem:

“It’s time to vote like our lives depend on it. We demand basic needs and stability,” said Terri Wright, from Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE). “We demand equality. Our democracy and justice are on the line.”

“Our community has been ravaged by poverty for decades,” said Dr. Nithin Paul, a community physician based in Woonsocket. “And the only wy we can fight back is in building our own power.”

Here’s all the video:

Some 140 million poor and low-income people live in the United States, including 43% of all adults; 52% of children; and 73% of women – and that was before COVID. In 2018, 36% (370,000) of Rhode Islanders were poor or low-income. As detailed here, this includes 47% of Rhode Island’s children (100,000), 40% of women (210,000), 64% of Black (40,000), 69% of Latinx (110,000), and 29% of white people (220,000).

According to a study, entitled Waking the Sleeping Giant: Low-Income Voters and the 2020 Elections, released by the Poor People’s Campaign last year, 58 million low-income people voted in the 2020 presidential election, accounting for 33% of the electorate and 45% in battleground states.

Over 80 million were eligible to cast a ballot, meaning that over 20 million low-income people left their votes on the table. When one considers that a mere 400 votes separated the winner and loser in one particular North Carolina contest, that means that these non-active voters have the power to make politicians listen to them.


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