This article by Jackie King first appeared in The Peace Advocate, the newsletter of Massachusetts Peace Action. Jackie King is a Mass. Peace Action Board member and a member of the MA Poor People’s Campaign.
The Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign and their allies converged on the offices of US Rep. Stephen Lynch in Boston and Richard Neal in Springfield June 7 for press conferences to demand that they — and all the state’s congresspeople — co-sponsor a Congressional Resolution for a Third Reconstruction to end poverty and low wages in this country.
They scored an immediate victory when a member of Rep. Lynch’s staff came out of his Seaport office building to say the congressman would sign on. The Campaign also received word that Rep. Ayanna Pressley had endorsed the resolution, joining Rep. Jim McGovern, who was one of its original 30 co-sponsors.
“We are grateful to those representatives who have embraced this vision for pathways out of poverty,” Rev. Dr. Savina Martin, Tri-Chair of the Mass. Poor People’s Campaign, told a reporter on the scene in Boston. “But this is just the beginning. We expect them to press their colleagues in Massachusetts and in Congress to embrace it as well, and to support concrete legislation that will make this vision a reality.”
The Massachusetts news conferences were two of 50 similar actions held by the Poor People’s Campaign simultaneously in 36 states. Those most directly impacted by poverty led off with their powerful stories, followed by strong statements from faith leaders, housing and healthcare advocates, labor organizers, peace activists and other community leaders. Massachusetts Peace Action supported and publicized the event.
In Springfield, Judy Schiavone, a member of the National Union of the Homeless and the Mass. PPC, testified about the hardships she endured when she became homeless and was forced to live on a friend’s couch for months. “I didn’t know I was homeless at the time, but I realized later that I was,” she said. “I had to deal with anxiety, depression, discouragement.” High rents and outrageous fees by landlord services and property management companies make it very hard to find an affordable apartment in Western Massachusetts, she noted, adding, “Housing should not be a commodity available as a privilege only to those who can afford it!”
At the same time in Boston, Eileen Milien, a Haitian immigrant student who is director of We Got Us which promotes vaccinations in the community, said many Black and brown people have contracted Covid during the pandemic not because of unsafe behavior, but because they were placed in unsafe conditions. “How can people wash their hands when they can’t afford water? How can they physically distance when they don’t have a place to shelter?” she asked. “So many people were evicted and displaced during these troublesome times, through no fault of their own…This Third Reconstruction is essential, for changing the systems that are killing people.”
The Third Reconstruction Resolution was introduced into Congress on May 24th by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Rep. Barbara Lee, chair of the House Speaker’s Taskforce on Poverty and Opportunity. In the same way that the Green New Deal provides a blueprint for tackling the climate crisis, the Resolution offers a broad outline for addressing the five interlocking injustices targeted by the Poor People’s Campaign: poverty, systemic racism, ecological devastation, militarism at home and abroad, and the distorted moral narrative of white nationalism.
It will need to be fleshed out and implemented with practical legislation. Some bills are already in the pipeline, Rep. Lee has said; others will be introduced in the coming months, and some elements can be brought about by Presidential executive order. But none of it will happen without sustained grassroots pressure, which the Poor People’s Campaign is determined to provide.
The June 7 press conferences were part of a build-up to June 21, when a National Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly will be held online and at a socially distanced rally in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Poor People’s Campaign then launches a one-year campaign toward an in-person Moral March on Washington and Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly on June 18, 2022 in Washington, D.C.
When you lift from the bottom, everybody rises!
What follows is powerful testimony by Kate Pousont Scarborough, a member of the the Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign’s Coordinating Committee, at the press conference in Springfield, MA on June 7th in front of the office of Rep. Richard Neal.
My name is Kate Pousont Scarborough. I am a member of the coordinating committee with the MA PPC, and a resident of Greenfield. I also lived in poverty for over 1/2 of my life.
In Greenfield, at least 44% of the population is poor or one emergency away from financial disaster. Housing costs are lower here, but the lower wages and added expense of transportation make the cost of living comparable to, or even higher than, urban areas. Like other rural communities further to the west, such as North Adams and Pittsfield, we are experiencing high rates of food and housing insecurity.
As a single mother for ten years, I experienced some of these things first hand. I got by by forgoing heat and skipping meals whenever my son wasn’t at home. A wood stove was our only heat source at that time, but I could only afford a fraction of the wood we needed. I taught myself to use power tools and began cutting up discarded furniture to keep warm. We struggled to find safe and secure housing. We had to move ten times over the course of ten years, and were sometimes forced to stay in unsafe situations due to lack of affordable housing in our community. I was lucky in many ways, and, like many of you, worked hard to get through.
But people shouldn’t have to develop superhuman strength to survive in one of the wealthiest nations in the world. It’s just plain wrong to mask oppressive policies by blaming poor folks for the pain inflicted upon them by design. That’s why I’m here to urge Richard Neal and all of the representatives here in Massachusetts to embrace the Third Reconstruction Resolution.