by Gary Olson
Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody
Turn me ‘round
Turn me ‘round
Ain’t gonna let nobody
Turn me around
I’m gonna keep on walkin’
Keep on talkin’
Marching into freedom land
I joined the Poor People’s Campaign because I sensed that it has more transformative potential than anything that’s come along in over five decades. In a previous post/article I praised the PPC for its dynamic leadership, organizational skills, social media savvy, courageous and compassionate members and its palpable camaraderie. (This left-wing atheist has felt welcome from the outset).
I‘ve gained this impression from participation in the rallies and civil disobedience actions. It was reinforced by the inspiring June 4th rally at the Capitol in Harrisburg, PA. where 31 members were arrested for blocking an entrance to the building.
Drawing upon extensive research provided by the Institute for Policy Studies, the PPC is clearly exposing the “Four Evils” of poverty, racism, ecological devastation and our war economy, the most egregious maladies of our system. Linking these indisputable facts with a potent social justice-based moral message is an indispensable first measure. The organizers also understand that morale is enhanced by getting out of oneself to observe or participate in small acts of rebellion in the streets.
Further, I’ve been impressed by the all-volunteer nature of the PPC at the state level, sensitivity to internal democracy and an awareness the movement is composed of multiple currents across the country.
In my opinion, the PPC is tantalizingly close to taking the next logical step. That is, it has focused critical light on the symptoms but for whatever reasons the PPC is reluctant to diagnose the disease. For me, the pink elephant in the Rotunda is the capitalist system and its two parties. Making this explicit connection to the Four Evils would be entirely in keeping with Dr. King’s own political evolution as he eventually embraced socialism and spoke openly about class struggle.
I agree with Patrick Walker, a longtime activist and someone well-disposed to the PPC, who contends that the movement is “Too Important Not to Criticize.” Foremost in Walker’s own critique is the apparent reluctance to speak candidly about the national Democratic Party. Despite all evidence to the contrary, too many folks in the progressive movement still harbor illusions for this handmaid to maintaining the underlying structures of our economic system and its institutions.
Listening to, working with and recruiting ordinary citizens is a huge challenge in itself. Beseeching powerful officials who are bereft of conscience to suddenly act morally is a fool’s errand.
Over my 50+ years as a political activist and would-be scholar I’ve witnessed countless promising efforts come to grief on the shoals of sectarianism on the one hand and totally unwarranted trust in the Democrats on the other. So far the PPC has avoided both of these fatal pitfalls.
However, without some hard truth telling, the PPC runs the slight risk of unintentionally sheep dogging for the Democrats in 2016 and 2020, one of the two parties consistently betraying the American people. It’s my sense that such a turn would not only be utterly demoralizing and contrary to King’s final dream but the PPC’s vaunted potential will be stillborn.
It’s entirely possible that I’m ignorant about the PPC’s longterm strategy but for me the endgame remains opaque. Perhaps that’s a positive feature, indicating an absence of rigid hierarchy and an appreciation for across-the-board, grass-roots consultation regarding important decisions.
I will say that barring a Saul to Paul conversion on the road to Damascus (Capitol Hill) our rulers will be even less responsive to the PPC’s demands than it was to Dr. King’s Resurrection City. It’s more likely the authorities will double down on implementing their inhumane agenda.
I offer these observations with the most constructive and supportive of motives and invite responses, including critical ones. If you find some merit in my comments please consider joining the Poor People’s Campaign and participating in this critically important conversation.
Gary Olson is Emeritus Professor of Political Science, Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA. His most recent book is Empathy Imperiled: Capitalism, Culture, and the Brain.