RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Poor People’s Campaign, a revival of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 campaign to tackle poverty, gathered Wednesday at the Capitol, urging state and federal lawmakers to expand voting rights, raise the minimum wage, promote renewable energy and curb military aggression.
About 25 people attended the meeting, delivered demands regarding issues they said are rarely represented in the political arena.
“It’s very important for us to understand the power of voting and to not be manipulated into thinking our votes are insignificant,” said Carroll Malik, a representative from the Muslim Chaplain Services of Virginia.
Malik said one of the most inspiring moments of his life was when his voting rights were restored 27 years after he was released from prison.
“We are not useless. We are not worthless. We can do something,” Malik said.
The group’s demands include restoration and expansion of the federal Voting Rights Act, an end to gerrymandering in drawing legislative districts, fully funded welfare programs, free tuition at public colleges and universities, more public housing, a ban on assault rifles and an immigration system that prioritizes family reunification.
Community organizers spent the morning discussing issues and strategy, and then participants spent the afternoon delivering letters to their elected representatives.
For the 2019 General Assembly session, the Poor People’s Campaign voiced support for several pieces of legislation:
- HB 1902, sponsored by Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, promotes renewable energy. It would make “$1 billion in grants available over three years to religious institutions, public schools, institutions of higher education, and localities” to help finance the installation and operation of solar energy systems, according to a summary by the Legislative Information System.
- HB 1651, sponsored by Del. Cliff Hayes, D-Chesapeake, would raise from $500 to $750 the threshold for a theft to be considered grand larceny.
- SB 1200, sponsored by Del. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021.
The group stated it “vigorously opposed” SB 1156, a bill introduced by Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun, to prohibit “sanctuary cities” for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.
“We have come together because Virginia is in a moral crisis,” the Poor People’s Campaign stated. “We will continue to organize, mobilize and educate residents across this state around our Moral Agenda, until all our demands are satisfied.”
By Maryum Elnasseh/Capital News Service
Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.