The following testimony was given by longtime Kairos member and Kansas Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival organizer Claire Chadwick in Topeka, KS for Week 5 of the Poor People’s Campaign’s #40DaysOfAction, Everybody’s Got a Right to Live: Education, Living Wage Jobs, Income, and Housing. Thanks to Claire for allowing us to publish these powerful remarks!


They told me that going to college would allow me to achieve the American dream. Go to college, get a higher paying job, maybe buy a house someday. But those things didn’t happen for me.

Instead I mounted incredible sums of student debt because my family couldn’t afford to help me with college. At the time my family had just lost our house to foreclosure and my dad was living in a tent. Because of that, both private and public student loan companies make thousands of dollars each year just from my payments that I can barely make each month. I can only afford to pay on the rising interest rates and have not yet begun paying down the balance of my original loan even 10 years after graduating. For me there is no end in sight to paying off these loans.

And I don’t have the high paying job they promised. Working a low wage job at a coffee company full time I can barely make ends meet. Each month I rob from Peter to pay Paul. Because the cost of my rent is almost 50% of my monthly income I have to choose between paying rent or getting my prescription medication. Do I buy groceries this week or pay my electric bill? These are not choices anyone should have to make! I would work more hours if they would let me but overtime is not allowed because I would be getting paid time and a half. So I now work 2 jobs.

They told me that going to college would allow me to achieve the American dream. Go to college, get a higher paying job, maybe buy a house someday. But those things didn’t happen for me.

The CEO of this company made 21.8 million dollars last year but he won’t let me work over 40 hours so I can pay my rent!

When CEOs make over 83,000 % more than their workers, like in my case — which is even worse with other companies — there’s a problem. I’ll tell you what — there’s no way in hell they work 83,000% harder than we do!

When in the last 50 years worker productivity has increased by almost 75% but wages have not kept up, we’ve got a problem! We work harder, we work longer for less.

When the state of Kansas passes a law saying that localities cannot increase the minimum wage higher than that of the states, we’ve got a problem!

When higher education means high costs and high interest rates, we’ve got a problem.

Student debt now amounts to $1.34 trillion dollars.
But it’s not just student debt, 60 million people in the US have zero or negative wealth. This makes us a debtors’ nation and we’ve got a problem!

When 30% of people who rent in this country spend at least half of their income on housing, we’ve got a problem! A minimum wage worker in Kansas has to work a minimum of 79 hours a week to be able to afford a 2 bedroom unit. In Johnson County, thought to be one of the wealthiest counties in the US, almost half of renters pay more than 1/3 of their income on rent. We’ve got a problem!

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Chadwicks
Claire Chadwick and her sister Jessica Chadwick Williams at the Kansas Poor People's Campaign's day of action last Monday in Topeka, KS.

This has gone on far too long.
And we won’t be silent anymore!

We demand living wages for the 21st century economy and the right to join a union.
We demand equal pay for equal work! We demand quality education and tuition free public colleges and universities!

And in this year, 2018, we declare a Jubilee and relief from crushing and debilitating household, student, medical and consumer debt!

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “For the evils of racism, poverty and militarism to die, a new set of values must be born. Our economy must become more person-centered than property-centered and profit-centered.”

And so we demand a radical revolution of values in this country because people are more important than profits.