In 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. launched the Poor People’s Campaign and March on Washington in an effort to shine a light on the plight of America’s most vulnerable citizens. Monday evening, a group of about 200 religious leaders, anti-poverty and minimum-wage activists gathered just off Martin Luther King Boulevard next to the Capitol in St. Paul, and spoke passionately about how things have only gotten worse for poor people in the last 50 years.
The 2018 version of King’s vision took to 30 state Capitols across the country Monday, and organizers of the Minnesota Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival have more rallies planned over the next six weeks. They encourage people to join them next Monday, May 21, at the Capitol in St. Paul for a 5 p.m. Rally for a Just Immigration Policy, or at the national gathering June 23 in Washington, D.C.
This Monday’s rally outside the Capitol took place at the same time 13 protesters were being arrested inside, on the fourth floor outside the office of Rep. Pat Garofalo, a sponsor of a bill that would pre-empt city governments from passing their own minimum wage or paid-leave ordinances. Despite a steady, cold rain that fell throughout the 90-minute program, the spirits of the huddled mass couldn’t be dampened — as illustrated by the oft-repeated chant of “Forward together!/Not one step back!”
MinnPost took in the Poor People’s Campaign, in words and photos:
Jayanthi Kyle (above and below) led the crowd of about 200 in song.
“I have something important to say. We all have a spirituality, but for this to be successful, we need a groundswell from the bottom. We need to revisit Martin Luther King’s 10 commandments and translate it to your spirituality, but please look those up [before next week’s rally],” a man sporting a tie-dyed T-shirt and crucifix necklace implored the crowd, in reference to protesters in Birmingham, Alabama, who were asked by King to sign “commitment cards” in 1963.
“I just wanted to take a moment to let you know that the group of people who were occupying the space around Pat Garofalo’s office are being arrested right now. It’s time to bring the energy and play the music, so they feel supported and they know that we’re here, with them in solidarity,” said Rev. Dana Neuhauser, minister of public witness at New City Church in Minneapolis, after which Kyle led the crowd in a rousing version of the protest spiritual “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
“I firmly believe that it is a time for us to call our leaders to a moral revival, to start thinking about issues that effect the most vulnerable among us,” said DeWayne Davis, pastor at All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church and co-chair of the Minnesota Poor People’s Campaign. “We thought that we made progress with many of the issues that arose [in the ‘60s], but quite frankly, I don’t think I’m being hyperbolic when I say that in some ways we’ve moved further back. We’re wealthier than we’ve ever been. Dr. King said at that time that one of the things that’s most startling is that we have the resources to address racism and poverty and the war economy — and we do, too. But here we are: more people living in poverty, just a stubborn racism, we have a militarized police force so the war economy has bled into our everyday life, and then we have to add, on top of that, environmental degradation. The challenges that we’re facing won’t go away. And they’re not going away if we put our heads in the sand. So we’re saying we need to talk about these issues as a moral issue, when we’re talking about vulnerable people not being taken care of. People trying to make a living wage, people trying to get through the day. We’re going to be here for the next 40 days, saying it.”
“Before I became a rabbi, I was working as an immigrants’ rights organizer,” said Rabbi Arielle Rosenberg, of Shir Tikva synagogue in Minneapolis. “I was deep in workers’ rights, deep in migrants’ rights, trying to figure out what justice looks like, how do we fight against the criminalization of immigrants in this country, and something I’ve been loving about this campaign is the fact that it’s tremendously intersectional.”
“It’s a huge issue,” said Leo Franchette. “Women are a marginalized social group, so it’s important that we address issues that concern them, especially. But beyond that, finding a just minimum wage is extremely important.”
“I’m here today because working people need these gains that we’ve gotten in Minneapolis and not have them pre-empted by the state Legislature,” said Daniel Matus. “The Socialist Party of Minnesota does community organizing outside of the electoral system to make demands of our elected officials.”
“If you read the audit that the national Poor People’s Campaign put out, you’ll see that in many of these arenas — poverty, systemic racism, ecological devastation, and the war economy — things have actually gotten worse,” said organizer Elizabeth Tannen. “So there’s a greater need right now for the Poor People’s Campaign than there was 50 years ago, even. I think we’re conditioned into complacency and told that other people are not our problem, and to only look out for ourselves, and that’s bullshit because we all need each other and our liberation is bound up together.”
“I think it’s important that the minimum wage goes up,” said Israel Aranda. “I think it’s important that people make a living wage. I think it’s important that people not have to worry about rent, or choose between buying food or medicine. It’s important to show that we’re out here, and that we’re not going to stand for pre-emption. Pre-emption means poverty.”
“I’m showing up today for the people I grew up with in my neighborhood and my own family,” said Raymond Davis, of Unity Church Unitarian. “I grew up in a family with a single mother with five kids and we were trying to make a life out of nothing. No money. The political climate right now is making it even harder than when I grew up, so something’s got to be done. Corporate people are trying to keep wages low, keep everything down, poor people stay where they are, and they justify it by saying they want another house, they want another car. And they don’t realize that in doing it, they’re fighting against someone who just wants another meal. Big difference.”