Waking the Sleeping Giant of the Low-Income Voting Bloc

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Author: Sarah Anderson
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Amidst all the nail-biting uncertainty over the 2024 election, one thing’s for sure: turnout will be key. 

This week, the Poor People’s Campaign announced plans to mobilize a potentially powerful yet often overlooked voting bloc: the 85 million eligible voters who are poor or low-income. 

The campaign has crunched the numbers and determined that if this bloc voted at the same rate as higher-income voters, they could sway elections in every state. But most voting drives and political candidates still ignore this segment of our society. 

“The conventional wisdom – which isn’t very wise – is that the poor don’t care about voting,” said Poor People’s Campaign Policy Director Shailly Gupta Barnes at a February 5 press conference. “But that’s just not true.” 

What’s the biggest factor discouraging poor and low-wage people from exercising this basic right? 

“Political campaigns do not talk to them or speak to their issues,” explained campaign co-chair Bishop William J. Barber, II. “In our election cycles sometimes we have 15, 20 debates for president. In 2020, not one of those – not 15 minutes – was given to raising questions about how the policies of that particular party or politician would impact poor and low-income people.” 

The Poor People’s Campaign is planning 42 weeks of action aimed at pushing the concerns of poor and low-income people into the center of the 2024 political debate. The kick-off will be on March 2, with marches to state legislatures in 32-plus states. 

A June 15 convergence at the U.S. Capitol will launch a wave of actions leading up to the party conventions and the November election. Their goal: to mobilize 15 million “infrequent” poor and low-income voters.

Will politicians be listening? At the press conference, pollster Celinda Lake ticked off one battleground state after another where even a small increase in poor and low-income voter participation could determine the election outcome. As one example, she pointed out that in Arizona, 40 percent of voters are low-wage and in 2020 the margin of victory was just 0.03 percent. 

“You’d have to be a moron to not get this and most elected officials are not complete morons,” Lake said. 

Veronica Burton, Wisconsin child care worker and activist. Poor People’s Campaign press conference, National Press Club, Washington, DC, February 5, 2024.

What are some of the most pressing issues on the Poor People’s Campaign agenda? The Institute for Policy Studies has just co-published campaign fact sheets for the nation and all 50 states with data on the interlocking problems that hit the poor hardest: poverty and inequality, systemic racism, ecological devastation, and militarism. 

Several speakers at the recent press conference spoke about these problems from their own personal experiences. 

“I’m tired of companies and billionaires buying politicians who are pushing people deeper into poverty and debt,” said Matthew Rosen, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “I’ve put up with the thankless toll of minimum wage retail jobs and back-breaking construction jobs in a state that has 19 billionaires. And because of our flat tax, they pay the same state income tax rate as I do.” 

Three people stand at a podium with a microphone

Poor People’s Campaign press conference, National Press Club, Washington, DC, February 5, 2024. From left: Campaign co-chairs Bishop William Barber II and Rev. Liz Theoharis, Alabama activist Linda Burns.

Linda Burns, a former Amazon warehouse assembly line worker, has struggled for basic labor rights and decent health care benefits. Burns was a supporter of the valiant union drive at the Bessemer, Alabama facility that Amazon eventually crushed through harsh intimidation tactics. 

Burns says she was fired for her union activity, which led to the loss of her health benefits right before a needed surgery related to a workplace injury. Today she works 16 hours a day as a caregiver. 

“I’ve worked too hard to have nothing,” said Burns. “We have to stand up for our rights.” 

Veronica Burton spoke about the economic gulf in her community of Beloit, Wisconsin. A woman who lives “around the corner” from her is a billionaire while Burton is struggling to pay bills in the face of multiple rent increases and the low wages she earns at an understaffed child care center. 

“If you want to know what’s wrong with our society, listen to the babies,” Burton said. On top of dealing with her own problems, she often finds herself trying to help parents of the children under her care. “We’ve had mothers unenroll their children because they can’t afford their asthma medicine,” she said. 

These and other Poor People’s Campaign organizers in more than 30 states are ready to put on their marching and door-knocking shoes in the lead-up to this year’s election and beyond. 

“We are not an insurrection,” Bishop Barber said. “But you better believe we are a resurrection – a resurrection of justice and love and righteousness.” 

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and is a co-editor of the IPS web site Inequality.org.

Inequality.org has been tracking inequality-related news and views for nearly two decades. A project of the Institute for Policy Studies since 2011, our site aims to provide information and insights for readers ranging from educators and journalists to activists and policy makers.  If you would like to support and help expand our work, please consider making a donation. Thank you!  DONATE

Source URL: https://portside.org/2024-02-12/waking-sleeping-giant-low-income-voting-bloc