Poor And Low-income West Virginians Took Their Questions About Build Back Better To A Renowned Economist Dr. Sachs
CHARLESTON, WV – Poor and low-income West Virginians took their questions about Build Back Better to a renowned economist on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021 as the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival held a community forum on President Biden’s agenda to provide a critical first step in building the country from the bottom up.
Economist Jeffrey Sachs, a professor at Columbia University, spoke at the forum in Charleston, West Virginia, as did the co-chairs of the PPC:NCMR, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. Dr. Sachs then took questions from forum participants, who wanted to know why their senator, Joe Manchin, had cut the bill that would help so many of them and their neighbors.
“He’s not representing the people of West Virginia at all. He left you behind,” said Dr. Sachs, who provided an understanding and urgent perspective of the need for a complete Build Back Better Plan.
Hunter Sparks, a lifelong West Virginian, testified about the hard choice they had to make between caring for an elderly family member, childcare, and keeping their job. “I had a good job that could have been a career. But I had to resign because I have to care for my daughter and grandmother,” Sparks said. “I was not born into poverty, but have been forced into it as an adult because of policies.”
Some 140 million Americans are poor or low-income, including 710,000 in West Virginia, or 40% of that state’s population. Of that number, 589,000 are children and women.
Rev. Barber traced Sen. Manchin’s use of the word “entitlements” to describe parts of Build Back Better as being “straight out of the Southern strategy. You cannot dismiss racism, but you also cannot dismiss the economics of it,” he said. “Fifty-six percent of voters used methods that will be taken away under these current voter suppression laws.”
Rev. Theoharis called out Sen. Manchin, who has fought Build Back Better at every turn, for saying the country can’t afford it.
“The richest country in the world has abundant resources to provide a life for its citizens to thrive,” she said. “The original proposal was already too small, and now we are left fighting for scraps. Multi-millionaires like Senator Manchin are playing politics with people’s lives. We cannot keep living like this.”
Deedra Keys-Switzer, a local college level instructor, talked about the importance of higher education. ““We hear constantly that the increasing financial burden of school is challenging to students and their families,” she said “There are students being pushed out financially and in other ways. We lost so much when we decided not to expand the two free years of college.”
The deletion of free community college is just mean, Dr. Sachs said. “In other countries, they find ways for people to go to college and specialized trade schools and not end up with massive amounts of debt. But not here, because of money,” he said.
Pam Garrison, tri-chair of the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign and a lifelong low-wage worker, said her heart broke as she listened to the concerns of her fellow West Virginians.
“They’ve voted to tear down my grandchildren’s future and I am not taking it, and my fellow West Virginians are not taking it… Manchin says it will add to the deficit and his grandchildren will be paying for it,” she said. “Well my grandchildren are in poverty. Am I fighting a losing battle or do I have a country with me?”