Over the last two weeks, several NEOCH interns had the opportunity to take part in the Poor People's Campaign nationwide movement in Columbus and in Washington, D.C. NEOCH Interns Asha Ravichandran and Gillian Prater-Lee reflected on the experiences:
The Poor People's Campaign, a national nonviolent activism movement, professes to do the unheard of today: create an intersectional and comprehensive class-based social and political movement to fundamentally reform the power structures that control our lives. This campaign was inspired by a 1968 movement of the same name led by Martin Luther King Jr. Rev. Dr. King envisioned a “new and unsettling force” that would address far reaching social, economic, and political inequities. Today, activists across the country have commemorated Dr. King’s legacy by reviving his movement. The campaign is unique within the current wave of post-Trump election activism because it clearly seeks to address how the capitalist system oppresses the poor. Instead of taking socioeconomic status as simply one of many intersectional identities, the Poor People's Campaign centers the role of capitalist exploitation of the poor and working classes and then layers on other oppressive forces. The campaign also seeks to redefine our country’s distorted moral framework. In a society plagued daily with ethical atrocities, the Poor People’s Campaign’s commitment to morality throughout its advocacy for the poor is a refreshing and necessary addition to today’s political climate.
JUNE 18TH COLUMBUS RALLY NOTES ON THE GROUND, by Asha Ravichandran:
On Monday, June 18, two other NEOCH staff and I joined nearly fifty advocates from across the state to participate in the Poor People’s Campaign actions at the Ohio Statehouse. This was the group’s final protest rally in Ohio, which capped off a six-week campaign devoted to standing up for the rights of the poor in this state and across the country. Each week of the campaign focused on a specific theme; this week’s was “A New and Unsettling Force: Confronting the Distorted Moral Narrative.”
Learning about the campaign’s mission reaffirmed my commitment to the work I do at NEOCH. While we at NEOCH are focused on ending the cycle of homelessness, we recognize that this is but one component of the epidemic of poverty that plagues our communities, especially in today’s political climate. I particularly appreciate the movement’s aim to redefine our country’s “distorted moral narrative.” Despite the intensely bipartisan nature of today’s politics, it’s important to realize that the issues the Poor People’s Campaign addresses transcend party lines: as the campaign puts it, targeting systemic inequalities is not a question of right vs. left; rather, it’s a question of right vs. wrong.
Monday’s rally began with a few speeches next to the William McKinley Monument across from the Statehouse. One speaker, a full-time employee of Ohio State, noted that she is forced to live paycheck to paycheck—in short, one emergency expense away from a financial crisis. Others discussed the unconscionable ways our government devastates families by separating children from their parents. Leaders of the protest then invited us to write the names of those we had lost due to government- and police-related violence on a banner painted to resemble a brick wall. Our next action was a “Jericho March” around the Statehouse. The approach was inspired by the story of Joshua and his men marching around Jericho seven times, causing the city’s walls to tumble down. During Monday’s march, we walked twice around the Statehouse, carrying the long banner. The first walk was silent, accompanied only by the slow beating of drums. The second time, however, protestors broke into rousing songs and chants, such as “O-H-I-O, Poverty Has Got to Go!” and “Fight Poverty, Not the Poor!” After our march, we watched as six of us who had planned to be arrested blocked State Street. As they were escorted into police vehicles, our chants grew louder, for their arrests represented a distinct message: that we will no longer tolerate the marginalization of the poor in this country.
It was exhilarating to be part of such a passionate movement that advocated for the rights of the dispossessed in our community. The Poor People’s Campaign does not end here; they have planned a mass rally in Washington, D.C this Saturday, June 23rd. These rallies represent only the beginning of the campaign’s attempt to create a better, more moral society. We at NEOCH hope that their efforts will help to tear down the walls of injustice and lift up the dispossessed.
Pictures from Ohio Statehouse:
JUNE 23RD WASHINGTON DC NOTES ON THE GROUND, by Gillian Prater-Lee:
This past Saturday I had the opportunity to travel to Washington DC with a group of Cleveland poor people and activists to participate in the final day of 40 days of direct moral action on places of power. Our two vans left Cleveland at 2:00AM to head to DC. Once there, we joined scores of people in the national mall to hear speakers of all identities (though predominantly poor activists) discuss poverty and inequality, systematic racism, ecological devastation, and the war economy and militarism. We then marched on the Capitol building while crying chants like "No justice- no peace," "From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go," and "Whose streets? Our Streets!" and iconic, ageless songs that were likely sung at the original Poor People's Campaign like "A Change is Gonna Come" and "Free at Last."
Though the entire day was a moving and deeply inspiring experience, certain elements particularly affected me. One of which was a conversation with a New York City woman wearing a shirt from a demonstration I attended in Atlanta a few years ago who had driven down to DC from NYC. It just gave me hope to see other people who have continued to fight for these issues over the years who I have been able to connect with at different points in my life. A woman from Washington state was reduced to tears onstage about how honored she was to be involved in the campaign: she felt that it gave her a chance to change systems that had made her life awful for so long (She said she was the white trash that society threw out but forgot to burn). Organized labor was represented by local union organizers that shared their lived experiences on the front lines of fighting for fair pay and treatment in the workforce. A group of indigenous people performed a spiritual song that blessed the movement in a beautiful and slightly haunting way, complete with drums, dancing, and singing. A group of rappers and gospel singers kept the crowd energized between speakers while sharing tunes calling for the people to rise up for social justice. A young African American family stood next to me for much of the three plus hours of speakers, attempting to keep their two children calm as they listened and celebrated the movement. I discussed the policing of activism with a similarly minded protester while marching...
I am still processing all of these and more moments, but this weekend gave me hope that our deeply flawed capitalist society can be forced to change so that all people can be given a life where they can fully recognize their aspirations, hopes, and dreams. I am thankful for all the beautiful people that shared their stories and energy over the course of the day.
The demands of the Poor People's Campaign align both with my personal views on what a socially just world looks like, and with NEOCH's work to organize with, empower, and educate homeless, poor, and disenfranchised people. The campaign inspired me to continue my work at NEOCH with a renewed belief that systematic change is possible, and that there are others across the country fighting the same fight. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this activism, and look forward to continue to work with the Poor People's Campaign
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