Poor People’s Campaign takes on Manchin on voting rights

‘Which side are you on?’

By: - September 21, 2021 6:26 am
Rev. Dr. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign speaks during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol May 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Poor People’s Campaign held the news conference to call for a congressional resolution "to address poverty and low wages." (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rev. Dr. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign speaks during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol May 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Poor People’s Campaign held the news conference to call for a congressional resolution “to address poverty and low wages.” (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Poor People’s Campaign is taking on Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). Manchin, whose support progressives finally won for a major voting rights bill, has joined Republicans in supporting restrictive voter ID measures and is a defender of the the filibuster, which could doom the very voting-rights bill he just agreed to join. Manchin is also heavily invested in coal and has been an opponent of efforts to address climate change. And he opposes the  $15 minimum wage.

“Joe Manchin claimed to support the For the People Act when John Lewis was alive,” said the Poor People’s Campaign’s Rev. Liz Theoharis, a Milwaukee native, at an online news conference Monday. “But there was no chance of it passing. Now, his narcissism has demanded the photo op that he ‘supports’ the Freedom to Vote Act, which cannot pass the Senate without filibuster reform — which Manchin himself is blocking.” Calling out Manchin’s “cynical exercise of image polishing” Theoharis condemned him for standing “in the way of the For the People Act, fully restoring the 1965 Voting Rights Act, ending the filibuster, and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour—which are widely supported by the people of West Virginia and the nation.”

“Manchin knows that his Republican friends aren’t going to support federal protection of voting rights,” added Rev. William Barber. “His cooperation on a bill that would expand the right to vote and protect against voter suppression in the states is important, but it’s a cynical performance of concern about the crisis we face if Manchin isn’t willing to vote with his fellow Democrats to override the Republicans’ interposition of any debate on voting rights through the coward’s fillibuster.”

“And,” Barber added, “his attempts to add the ‘election integrity’ language of the Big Lie into this bill is shameful.”

By adding language about protecting  “election integrity” to the  new voting legislation, Manchin threw a bone  to Republicans who promote the disproven claim that the 2020 election was stolen from  Donald Trump.

In a leaked video taken with a hidden camera, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) praised Manchin and Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

“We have a bunch of people running around, particularly progressives, who all they want to talk about is, well, let the people’s will be done,” said Santorum in a meeting with fellow Republicans. “No! No, no, no. We don’t want the people’s will to be done immediately because you have the passions of the majority that … remember our Constitution was set up to protect who? Minority rights, not the majority rights.” Santorum said, “call Joe Manchin and say thank you. Seriously. Call Krysten Sinema and say thank you.”

In the same video Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) said, “The reality is they’re pushing as far as they can. Fortunately for us, the filibuster is still in effect in the Senate. Without that we would be dead meat and this thing would be done. Then we’d be having a little bit more frantic discussion than we’re having today. But thank goodness for Sinema and Joe Manchin.”

Manchin and Sinema have consistently obstructed democratic infrastructure plans, ending the Senate filibuster, and other polices that  the Poor People’s Campaign argues are critical to addressing systemic injustices that perpetuate misery and threaten democracy.

The Poor People Campaign’s Moral Monday action focused on West Virginia, though these are issues playing out nationwide. Recently, the campaign took out a full-page newspaper ad in the state outlining the many moves by Manchin to block reform policies. A national call-in will also be organized by the campaign, “to flood his lines today and all of this week,” said Barber. “While Manchin has moved some in response to the Poor People’s Campaign of West Virginia’s moral challenge, remember, it was after hundreds of them lined up at his door June of this year, the next day he came out with a so-called comprise plan. He hadn’t moved until then. But he’s still playing games with our democracy.”

Barber particularly highlighted the filibuster, and it’s enduring role in blocking the end of  slavery, better wages and working conditions for U.S.  labor, and other efforts at progress. “The filibuster has been used in bad ways,” said Barber, “and for him to continue to use it, this filibuster, is just wrong.”

The debate over a federal voting rights bill unfolds as Republicans in many states have moved to restrict voting access. The Freedom to Vote act, which has been endorsed by Manchin, essentially combats state-level attempts to restrict voting by providing minimum federal standards for early and mail-in voting. It is a less forceful effort after the  For The People Act, drafted by the late John Lewis,  did not earn Manchin’s support. Machin’s support for the Freedom to Vote Act won’t mean much if the  filibuster, which he also suppports, prevents its passage.

“The campaign has continued to ask Sen. Manchin, which side are you on—the side of the people, especially poor and low-income West Virginians, or the side of those standing in the way of democracy and justice? We are unmoved by symbolic victories and will keep organizing, defending our democracy and fighting for economic justice,” said Theoharis. More than 100,000 people in West Virginia are uninsured, and 40% of all West Virginians are poor or low income. They’re among the 140 million people in America who are poor or low income, across racial demographics. In particularly segregated states like Wisconsin, the disparities are particularly stark.

“We are very serious in the Poor People’s Campaign,” said Barber, “that Sen. Manchin needs to stop serving the positions of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Koch brothers in his legislative agenda.” In the near future, he said, the Poor People’s Campaign is considering non-violent direct actions, including protests, sit-ins and other tactics about which Barber declined to go into much detail. “This is the moment that we must have a moral reset in this country,” said Barber, “and we cannot allow Manchin, and Sinema, and others who claim to take these moderate—which there is no such thing when it comes to justice anyway … to continue to filibuster the possibility and the future of this nation, and to filibuster on the lives and the pain of which poor and low wealth people are facing every day. Which side are you on is the moral question of this moment. And we intend to let it ring out, and to push it, until we see transformation and change.”


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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets.