By Mary Hladky

Rev. William Barber and Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign, came to Kansas City, Mo., to conduct a Poor People’s Hearing. Local elected leaders and those running for office were invited to listen to the voices of poor Missourians who have traditionally lacked a voice in our country. The goal was to engage our local, state, and national leaders to act to fight systemic racism, poverty, militarism and its war economy, and environmental devastation. The event was held at Rev. Rodney Williams’ Swope Parkway United Christian Church on Oct. 10.    

The church was packed with people filling all the overflow spaces! The event started with everyone singing “Everyone Has a Right to Live.”  

There were several excellent speakers. We learned:  

Two out of every five Missourians are poor or low-incomethat’s 2.3 million people at risk of not meeting their daily needs.  

Today, in our country, one out of five children are poor. One-half of Missouri’s counties have an even higher rate of child poverty, where one in every four children are poor.   

In Missouri, from 1979 to 2012, the income of the top 1 percent of households grew 130 percent. The rest of Missourians’ income grew, during that same period, a measly 3 percent.  

Nearly one out of two workers makes less than $15 an hour. That’s 1.2 million workers and their families.  

We heard the heartbreaking and compelling stories of an undocumented person, a Native American, a farmer, a low-wage worker, and a veteran. After each of these stories, the audience chanted, “Someone is hurting my brothers and sisters, and we are not going to take it anymore!”  

Rev. Barber said we need to hold policymakers accountable for these wretched conditions imposed by funneling our country’s benefits to the wealthy and corporations. People also suffer when our country chooses to spend trillions on war and its weapons instead of on our people.    

Rev. Barber reminded the crowd that if we want democracy, we are going to have to fight for it.  We are a movement, and we won’t be silent anymore.

—Mary Hladky, vice chair of the PeaceWorks Board, is part of the Poor People’s Campaign.