The Arkansas Senate on Monday shot down a resolution in support of the Arkansas Poor People’s Campaign.
The resolution “recognizes and supports” the group that began organizing in 2017, reviving the 1968 campaign that Martin Luther King Jr. helped organize prior to his assassination.
However, several Republican senators questioned whether the group — which bills itself as “challenging the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality” — reflected King’s principles.
Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, who sponsored the resolution, said that history shows that the campaign follows King’s ideals.
“There is nothing in this resolution that is not a part of Dr. King’s legacy,” Elliott said. “Not a single thing.”
Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, spoke against the resolution, calling the revived Poor People’s Campaign “overtly political” and criticizing what he perceived as anti-police rhetoric from the campaign.
“We all in this body, I think, care deeply about the message that Martin Luther King had and the original Poor People’s Campaign and what they stood for,” Garner said. “If that was what was in this resolution in front of us today, I would support it, put my name on it, be proud to do it.”
The resolution passed on a voice vote, but several members objected, asking for a roll-call vote, which failed 9-14 along party lines with 10 senators not voting.
Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, questioned references in the resolution to “systemic racism” and “the false moral narrative of Christian nationalism.”
“I would be happy to support a resolution that upholds Dr. Martin Luther King’s principles, but because of a lot of the questions here it makes it very difficult for me,” Rapert said
Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, said King was imprisoned for challenging norms at the time, and she challenged senators not to vote for or against any particular set of religious beliefs.
“We have in this country have almost established a theocracy where only Christian values are those that are valued,” Chesterfield said. “Rather than recognizing that in this country the Establishment Clause in the Constitution prohibits us from doing thusly.”
The Arkansas Poor People’s Campaign has demonstrated often at the state Capitol, and its members have been arrested for nonviolent protests, Elliott said.
The group has also demonstrated around Little Rock. Garner criticized its members for blocking traffic and holding signs with what he called anti-police messages.
Elliott closed for the resolution, urging those who revere King’s principles to vote for it.
“Do you really know Dr. King’s legacy?” she said. “Because if you know Dr. King’s legacy, you are not against this resolution. I don’t care how many times somebody stands up here and says this is not his legacy; doesn’t make it true.”