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Locals say virtual Poor People’s Campaign assembly sheds light on issues with poverty here in Rowan County

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — More than 1 million people across the nation tuned in to the virtual Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington on Saturday, which included testimonies from poor and low-income people about their experiences with systemic poverty and the interlocking issues it has created.

And local activists say the event shed light on issues with poverty here in Rowan County.

The Poor People’s Campaign is a movement of people nationwide who are organizing to end the injustices of systemic racism, poverty, militarism and ecological devastation, which activists say disproportionately impacts the 140 million Americans considered poor or low-income. Those poor and low-income Americans comprise 43% of the overall population.

An estimated 14% of people live in poverty, which is higher than the national rate of 11.8%, according to the U.S. Census. A higher percentage of the state and national population are considered low-income.

In Rowan County, 16.8% of the population live below the poverty line, which is also higher than the national average, according to U.S. Census data.

Local pastor and Poor People’s Campaign’s Salisbury Circle member Anthony Smith said the event’s discussion cast a broad net over local issues of systemic racism, poverty, militarism with law enforcement and ecological devastation.

Additionally, Smith said Salisbury Police’s recent use of tear gas to disperse a protest on June 1 serves as another example of militarizing law enforcement. Salisbury Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins plans to propose banning the use of tear gas in the community at the July 21 Salisbury City Council meeting. But a vote on the matter has been delayed.

“This is a movement anybody can be a part of, especially those being directly affected,” Smith said.

Some activists said the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated health inequities among communities of color, who have been disproportionately affected here in Rowan County. According to Census data, the Hispanic population make up 9.2% of the overall population. But the latest COVID-19 stats for the county show that 26.9% are Hispanic.

One speaker at the virtual event included Zalonda Woods, who emphasized the “substandard living conditions” of Greensboro, noting that 23 families face eviction every day there.

She added that mass homelessness isn’t an individual moral issue, but rather, “society’s collective moral failure.”

More than 9,000 people across North Carolina are considered homeless, according to the 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And currently 15% of Rowan residents experience housing problems, 12% experience severe housing cost burden, 3% experience overcrowding and 1% experience inadequate facilities, according to the Rowan County 2019 State of the County Health Report.

Over 20 national faith bodies and denominations and over 60 additional faith-based organizations signed on as partners for the assembly, which was organized by the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

The two-and-a-half hour event was held virtually and streamed on major TV and radio networks and via June2020.org. It will be broadcast again on Sunday at 6 p.m.

Some of North Carolina’s representation included Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, who serves as North Carolina NAACP president; Bishop Tonvia Rawls of the Freedom Center for Social Justice in Charlotte; Rev. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of the School of Conversion in Durham; and Rev. Nancy Petty, a pastor at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh.

Several celebrities and activists also spoke, including Danny Glover, Wanda Sykes, Debra Messing and former Vice President Al Gore.

The Poor People’s Campaign launched an agenda of initiatives aimed at addressing the 140 million poor and low-income Americans. The platform includes establishing justice and ending systemic racism, promoting the right to welfare and an adequate standard of living, ensuring the right to work with dignity, securing the right to health and a healthy environment, and “providing for the common defense” by reprioritizing resources.

Another Salisbury circle member, Dr. Regina Dancy, said the event was “invigorating,” as viewers heard directly from those impacted by poverty and not politicians. She added that it brought “credence and importance to the topic” of systemic poverty.

A local issue she referred to is the fight for higher wages, adding that fast food workers who can’t earn a living wage contribute to the overall issue of systemic poverty.

She added that more than 1 million viewers across the nation tuned in via Facebook alone. That’s in addition to views via june2020.org or via some national outlets that broadcast the event.

“We know we have to continue to keep our foot on the pedal” to ensure change happens, Dancy said.

She encouraged locals ask themselves, “What if I was in this category? Would I want someone fighting for me?”

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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