An interview with Willie Baptist: Why we need a Poor People’s Campaign


CUSLAR student Daniella Hobbs sat down with Willie Baptist when he visited Ithaca College in April 2017. Here is an excerpt of what they discussed. The full interview is available at

Willie Baptist: Because of the crisis of our society, the way the economy is shaped, the poor has come to embody all of the major social ills: the housing problem, problems with our environment, the problems with healthcare, the racial questions, the gender questions, the question of who dies in war.

By uniting the poor, across color lines and every line of division, it allows us to connect those issues and to become a rallying point for all of those being hit by these different issues. The Poor People’s Campaign helps break down this misconception of problems that sees them as separate. They’re all are a manifestation of a system where a very few benefit from from the suffering of so many is not just a result of policy. The very way that the system is constructed, it produces poverty.

Rev. Dr. King brought this out before he died. He said, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that the very edifice that produces the beggar needs restructuring.” Well, this structure, or this edifice, not only produces the beggars, it produces billionaires, and the billionaires proceed to maintain the system that they benefit from. On the other hand, the poor is forced into a position to kill the system before the system kills them.

People tend to think the Poor People’s Campaign is just about poor people. They see poor people only as a charity case or criminal element, but what analysis has shown is that the position of the poor is only anticipating the position of increasing segments of the population.

I might be poor today but you can become poor tomorrow. I might be homeless today but you can be homeless if you have a healthcare crisis or you lose your job.

So this is not about how are we going to help those people over there, and we’re going to feel sorry for those people over there. This is about your family, your future, all of our families and all of our futures.

One of the elements of this Poor People’s Campaign, which is absolutely critical, is to show the inseparable, interdependent relationship of the poor, the poor of color with poor whites. One of the things that really distinguishes our process, that there is no way you can really develop in American thinking a kind of consciousness of capitalism as a class society if only the poor of color moved.

Because of our mindset, it’s going to be interpreted separately as a color question, but once you involve the poor whites in the process you see the whole problem. You just don’t see the leaf of it, or the branch of it, you actually see the whole root of the problem. It’s not a problem that is just about oppressed races or genders, it’s a society that is divided into classes.

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