Oct 4, 2021 - Politics & Policy

U.S. anti-poverty advocate heads to the Vatican

Rev. Dr. William Barber conducts a news conference on voting rights and infrastructure outside the U.S. Capitol.

Rev. Dr. William Barber II outside the U.S. Capitol. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The Rev. William Barber, of the Poor People's Campaign, is traveling to the Vatican to address anti-poverty advocates from around the world about the struggles of low-income people in the U.S.

Driving the news: Barber, a leading figure on the Christian left in the U.S., told Axios that political leaders continue to brush off incoming inequality despite the systemic disparities COVID-19 exposed.

Details: Barber is scheduled to speak at a conference Monday hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences on "coalition-building and bridging religious communities."

  • "The world is richer than ever, yet poverty persists in the midst of plenty," the Vatican says in its conference booklet that also asks attendees to come up with solutions.
  • Barber was invited by the Vatican through economist Jeffrey Sachs, who is co-hosting the conference.

What they're saying: "The poverty [in the U.S.] is more egregious because we are the so-called wealthiest nation in the world," Barber said. "And in the wealthiest nation in the world, 700 people are dying every day from poverty."

Of note: Barber pointed to how the pandemic disproportionately affected low-income Black Americans, Latinos and Native Americans and the inequality in health care and structural racism that persists in the U.S.

Flashback: Barber and the Rev. Jesse Jackson were among a group of civil rights leaders arrested outside the Senate during a protest calling for the filibuster's abolition in June.

  • The demonstration also called on senators to pass a sweeping voting rights bill that was blocked in the Senate on Tuesday, which was co-sponsored by every Democratic senator except for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Don't forget: The Poor People's Campaign, co-chaired by Barber, is modeled after Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1968 Poor People's March and seeks to organize low-income Black, white, Asian American, Latino and Native American residents.

  • Instead of assembling in camps near the National Mall — as protesters did in the wake of King's death in 1968, as part of the Poor People's Campaign — this drive has been organizing low-income people from El Paso to Kentucky via virtual events.
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