16 arrested as part of protest against poverty
by Staff Reports | May 16, 2018 10:45 am
Last Updated: May 16, 2018 at 9:26 am
Sixteen people were arrested Monday at the state capitol, kicking off a nationwide, six-week season of nonviolent direct action by the Poor People’s Campaign.
The protest in South Carolina was one of more than 30 across the country Monday demanding new programs to fight systemic poverty and racism, immediate attention to ecological devastation and measures to curb militarism and the war economy. Nationwide, thousands were arrested— from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Jefferson City, Missouri, to Sacramento, California— the most expansive wave of nonviolent civil disobedience in U.S. history.
Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival co-chairs the Revs. William J. Barber II and Liz Theoharis were arrested outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. alongside hundreds of people from dozens of states who are hurt by voter suppression, poverty wages, polluted drinking water and other policy violence that is too often ignored.
Christine Riccio, who has experienced homelessness off and on for several years was arrested in Columbia. “This campaign is long overdue,” said Riccio of Charleston. “People are suffering out here and those who aren’t need to know what it’s like to not have a place of your own to sit down and rest your head. They need to know the taste of peanut butter and bread when that’s your only dinner option.”
Carrying banners that read “Fight Poverty, Not the Poor,” and “Nothing Would Be More Tragic Than to Turn Back Now,” participants in the Poor People’s Campaign are demanding a restoration of the Voting Rights Act, repeal of the 2017 federal tax law, implementation of federal and state living wage
laws, universal single-payer health care, and clean water for all, among other changes.
“We’re living in an impoverished democracy,” said the Rev. Barber. “People across the country are standing up against the lie of scarcity. We know that in the richest country in the world, there is no reason for children to go hungry, for the sick to be denied healthcare and for citizens to have their votes suppressed.”
The protests Monday mark an emphatic reignition of the Poor People’s Campaign, the 1968 movement started by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and so many others to challenge racism, poverty and militarism. Over the next 40 days, poor and disenfranchised people, moral leaders and advocates will engage in nonviolent direct action, including mobilizing voters, knocking on tens of thousands of doors, and holding teach-ins, among other activities, as a moral fusion movement comprised of people of all races and religions takes off in South Carolina and beyond.
“Fifty years ago, Dr. King called for the poor and dispossessed of all races to unite and take action together—to become ‘a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life,’” said the Rev. Theoharis, co-chair of the Campaign. “Today, as poor people in South Carolina and all over the country take action and refuse to be ignored any longer, that ‘unsettling force’ has arrived. They’re heeding Dr. King’s call: ‘We’re here, we’re poor, you have made us this way and we’ve come to stay until you do something about it.’”
Protesters Monday highlighted child poverty, women in poverty and people with disabilities. Monday’s actions come as the Trump administration pushes work requirements for SNAP recipients and seeks to cut $7 billion from a child healthcare program.
“I’m getting arrested today because I want my kids to know what it means to fight for what is right,” said Laquanna Hunter of Charleston who has also been active in organizing fast food workers. “We sat down in Senator Tim Scott’s office and stopped President Trump from putting Andy Puzder in as Labor Secretary. That showed the power of protest.”
Protests in subsequent weeks will focus on systemic racism, veterans and the war economy, ecological devastation, inequality, and our nation’s distorted moral narrative. At the conclusion of the 40 days, on June 23, poor people, clergy and advocates from coast to coast will join together for a mass mobilization at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. They’ll then return to Columbia to continue building the campaign, which is expected to be a multi-year effort.
Over the past two years, leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival have carried out a listening tour in dozens of states across this nation, meeting with tens of thousands of people from El Paso, Texas to Marks, Mississippi to South Charleston, West Virginia. Led by the Revs. Barber and Theoharis, the campaign has gathered testimonies from hundreds of poor people and listened to their demands for a better society.
A Poor People’s Campaign Moral Agenda, announced last month, was drawn from this listening tour, while an audit of America conducted with allied organizations, including the Institute for Policy Studies and the Urban Institute, showed that, in many ways, we are worse off than we were in 1968.
Earlier this year, poor people, clergy and advocates traveled to statehouses all over the country and the U.S. Capitol to serve notice on lawmakers of the demand that they address the enmeshed evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and America’s distorted national morality. Lawmakers’ failure to act has spurred this spring’s six weeks of nonviolent moral fusion direct action.
The Campaign draws on the unfinished work of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, reigniting the effort led by civil rights organizations, labor union and tenant unions, farm workers, Native American elders and grassroots organizers to foster a moral revolution of values. Despite real political wins in 1968 and beyond, the original Poor People’s Campaign was tragically cut short, both by Dr. King’s assassination and by the subversion of the coalition that sustained it. Still, the original vision and many of its followers did not go away.
“This campaign has deep roots in South Carolina. Dr. King planned the original campaign at the Penn Center near Beaufort,” said Kerry Taylor, a state tri-chair of the campaign. “When the work concluded in Washington, DC, Dr. King’s group focused on South Carolina by assisting the hospital workers in Charleston in their efforts to form a union. This is the unfinished business of the 1960’s.”
The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral is building a broad and deep national moral movement – rooted in the leadership of poor people and reflecting the great moral teachings – to unite our country from the bottom up. Coalitions have formed in 39 states and Washington, D.C. to challenge extremism locally and at the federal level and to demand a moral agenda for the common good.
The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is co-organized by Repairers of the Breach, a social justice organization founded by the Rev. Barber; the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary; and hundreds of local and national grassroots groups across the country. In South Carolina the campaign is being organized by the South Carolina Poor People’s Campaign and many other human rights groups and individuals.