Next up: Moral Monday reunion in North Carolina, Wisconsin on March 28th
Contact: Martha Waggoner | [email protected]
The Poor People’s Campaign opened its 10-state in-person Mobilization Tour on Monday on the main street of Cleveland as marchers declared that people suffering from poverty and low wages won’t stay in the shadows any longer.
Chanting and carrying signs that read “We Won’t Be Silent Anymore,” poor and low-wealth people, faith leaders and their allies marched on Euclid Avenue at rush hour.
Poor People’s Campaign state leaders from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan joined the march and a rally held at Trinity Cathedral Episcopal Church.
“Why are we on Euclid?” asked Bishop William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. “Because we are not going to allow the issue of poverty and low wealth to be on back streets anymore. We are damned tired of poverty being last in the public discussion. … We know how to fix this. We’ve got to make America see our pain. The heart of this country must be broken. Its conscience must be shaken. That’s why they need to hear the pain. After we put the pain before them, they have to hear the answers.”
The Mobilization Tour will lead to theMass Poor People’s & Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls on June 18th, which will not be just a day of action but a declaration of a commitment to a moral movement that will lead participants to build the movement in their communities.
Larry Rodriguez of Cleveland, who is blind, stated his situation directly, making a statement as clear as marching on Euclid Avenue: “I am poor. Yeah. I have two jobs. I have Social Security. Government, you need to address the situation. You need to increase our minimum wage. You need to increase our Social Security checks.
“You need to give us better housing. You need to give us better public transportation services, better healthcare, better quality of life. We all deserve this. We all deserve to see quality of life in this nation. This nation should not be living under poverty. … We can do better.”
Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the PPC:NCMR, noted the economic disparities in Cleveland where “there are high rates of poverty right next to Millionaires’ Row; high infant mortality rates in the shadows of one of the best medical facilities in the world; huge numbers incarcerated and yet millions of dollars of ARPA money going to build prisons rather than invest in the people.”
Yet, by building a moral fusion movement, the PPC:NCMR is showing that “another world is possible; that poverty and oppression are not inevitable, that all God’s children have dignity, not that some life is more sacred than others,” she said.
The Very Reverend BJ Owens, dean of the Trinity Cathedral Episcopal Church, said so much has changed since the church was built in 1907. Back then, it was on the wealthiest street in America, he said.
“Now we’re just a fraction of a mile away from some of the poorest streets in the country. What happened between then and now? Well, today we are going to name it: Systemic racism and disinvestment. Poverty and unequal access to healthcare. They’re all evident here today,” he said as he pledged support for the June 18th assembly and march.
Two women who fight environmental destruction – one a white woman from Harlan County, Kentucky, and the other, a Black woman from Flint, Michigan – told their stories.
Environmental activist Terri Blanton said it’s as though nobody is paying attention to the destruction of deciduous forests and the health problems that coal causes, she said.
“My fantasy has been, how can we get all these people together,” she said. “People fighting for social justice, people fighting against racism, people fighting for the environment. How can we get us all speaking with one voice?”
She called on environmental groups that have honored her work to stand with the PPC:NCMR and come to DC on June 18th.
Bishop Bermandette Jefferson of Flint said her grandson was a candidate to be an academic ambassador in 2014, when he was 8 years old. In 2015, he began making failing grades.
“He didn’t go to Washington. DC, as an ambassador in 2015 because his grades had dropped because he had been poisoned by lead in the water. … Here it is in 2021, they wanted to put an asphalt plant right across the street from a housing complex that houses my grandchildren and my child that has a wood-burning plan across the street that has caused asthma to infiltrate that community. And now they want to put an asphalt plant to take and pollute the air to give them something to hinder their breathing. … On June 18th, we’re coming together.”
The Mobilization Tour is calling attention to the needs of the 140 million people nationally who are poor or low-income and the fact that 250,000 people die rom poverty each year in the US.
A joint stop will be held March 28th in North Carolina, the home state of Bishop Barber and where Moral Mondays began, and Wisconsin, where Rev. Theoharis grew up.
REMARKS FROM OTHER SPEAKERS:
Tim Watt of Indiana, who was previously homeless:
“After my marriage dissolved, I suffered from severe anxiety and depression. I lost my last job, my last home, my health insurance, and my self-respect – becoming one of the 20 million poor in the Midwest deindustrialized states.” After talking to other people in a similar situation, “I packed a shopping cart with everything I owned and spent a week in each of Indiana’s 92 counties in full public view. And I met so many people just like me who’ve been marginally disenfranchised by the interlocking injustices of modern American society.
Rukiye Zathra Abdul-Mutakallim, who forgave the three killers of her son, Suliman Abdul-Mutakallim, who was murdered in South Cumminsville, Ohio, in 2015. Two of the killers were teenagers:
“That is why I’m standing here with the Poor People’s Campaign right now to save, join with us all here come people because our children are dying on these streets and they are our future.”
Rabbi Enid Lader of Beth Israel – The West Temple in Cleveland:
“Today, let us say Hineini – we are here! We are here to stand together with the Poor People’s Campaign! The challenges facing our country can feel exhausting. But the prophet Isaiah taught: ‘God never grows faint or weary… God gives strength to the weary…!’ And we will not weary from answering the call – Hineni, we are here, together!”
Rev. Dr. Robin Hedgeman, senior pastor, Bethany Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Cleveland:
“Help us all realize that being safe and strong as a community means not only taking care of ourselves, but also caring and doing something about the needs of all of us.”