In a climate where a trio of billionaires boasts more wealth than 165 million hard-working Americans, Senator Bernie Sanders led a chorus of progressive voices this weekend, denouncing an economic system that seems more at ease sheltering the wealthy from the long arm of the IRS than supporting key anti-poverty programs.
At the “Rally to Raise the Wage” in Charleston, South Carolina, Sanders, a two-time presidential contender, gave voice to the angst shared by many of us: the widening chasm between the haves and the have-nots in what’s supposed to be the wealthiest nation on earth.
Sanders kept it simple: “In the richest country in the world, we demand an economy that works for all, not just the few.” He painted a stark picture, “It is not moral that three people on top own more wealth than the bottom half of American society, 165 million Americans.” A reality that makes you stop and think, doesn’t it?
Joining Sanders on this southern tour was Bishop William J. Barber II, who echoed the sentiment and lent his voice to the moral case against poverty and for fair wages. Barber, borrowing from religious texts, made the biblical case for economic justice, stating that there are more than 2,000 scriptures highlighting the worth of the poor and the value of laborers.
The Bishop hit a nerve when he compared the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 to a “death wage,” reflecting the grim toll of poverty in the US. And to those who wield power, he delivered a powerful message: “They are afraid of this room.”
In a nod to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Barber reminded us of the unfulfilled potential of a united voting bloc of poor black and white folk that could disrupt the “economic architecture of the nation.” His rallying cry was to build this coalition, challenge those who wield power for harm, and join together around a shared moral agenda.
And in this moral agenda, the southern states, often overlooked or dismissed, could play a critical role. These are not inherently red states, argued Barber, but states that have been “intentionally divided” and where workers have been disempowered.
The fight for a living wage was echoed by State Rep. Wendell Gilliard, who advocated for a living wage of no less than $17 an hour. This fight is not about party lines, but about hard-working people, friends, and family slipping into poverty due to stagnant wages and rising costs of living.
As Sanders concluded his address, he re-emphasized the power of unity against the strategies of the ruling elite, who attempt to divide us: black and white, Latino, Native American, Asian American, gay, and straight. He pointed out the cruel irony of voting against our own self-interest in the face of manipulated divisions.
Sanders’ final rallying cry: “They want to divide us up and we are determined to bring working people together — black and white and Latino — all of us together around an agenda that works for us not just the billionaire class!”
Let this not be just a moment in time, but a spark for a movement. It’s time for us, the youth, to raise our voices and keep the momentum alive. As we look ahead, the question remains: can we turn this into a fight that finally bridges the wealth gap and upends the status quo?