On June 7, 2021, the Poor People’s Campaign held Moral Monday actions in over 50 locations, nation-wide, demanding that congressional representatives embrace the agenda reflected in the Third Reconstruction resolution to end poverty. Leaders from the Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign have compiled these testimonies of organizers from the participating PA-based organizations, highlighting the power and spirit of the action that took place there. Read their testimonies here, and watch the video of our nationwide actions on June 7th.

Madelyn, Harrisburg – Movement of Immigrant Leaders in PA

This situation must end, but the only way to advance the moral agenda that we have been building for many years is by organizing ourselves, it is by eliminating the barriers of language, nationality, age, political and religious affiliation, we have to understand that we are on the right side of the story.  The strategy of division of political parties does not work with those of us who have understood that united we have more power. Today we call to restore justice in this nation, to eliminate the 4 evils that afflict society, such as poverty, environmental destruction, militarization in our communities and the systemic racism that keeps us on our knees. Today we stand up, and we put ourselves in a plan of struggle, we will not rest until the economic, environmental, and ecological problems that afflict our communities are resolved.  Today I call on the conscience of anyone who is listening to me and I tell them that they are not alone in this fight, that 140 million poor people are standing up fighting for our rights.  Thank you! 

Erica, York – Put People First! PA

In that moment, it became crystal clear that we will never be able to address the harms of militarism without addressing the harms of poverty and racism. The truth is that we use poor people here to fight poor people there. That the power holders work together so that the few can make more and more and more money. The costs to poor and working class people don’t factor in their balance sheets.

If there were no more poverty, if education and healthcare and the basics that we need to live lives of dignity were available to each and every one of us, how many people do you think would still join a standing military? There is too much wealth in this country, there are too many resources in this world for there to be children going hungry at night, for folks to be kicked out of their homes, for our elders and children to be denied the healthcare they need because they are too poor to afford it. 

That’s exactly why I’ve joined the Poor People’s Campaign and Put People First Pennsylvania. This fight is a moral one. And we need all of you standing next to us.  If you or your loved one came home all screwed up from war abroad, or from the never-ending struggle to survive at home, know you are loved, you are not alone, and we need you to organize with us!

If you or your family members are forced to choose between rent and prescriptions, or groceries and keeping the lights on, we see you, we’re with you, and we need you organizing here with us! If you are simply sick and tired of the same old rhetoric that we need to stay divided and hating each other instead of working together for the future our children deserve, We need you to organize!

Barbara Gurley, Philadelphia – Women of Color in the Global Women’s Strike

I was an unpaid caregiver for my husband Walter for over 13 years.  He suffered from diabetes, congestive heart failure, and morbid obesity.  He was on oxygen and in a wheelchair.   We were lucky to have some health care through my union but the premium was high because of the high cost of his illnesses. In addition, there were co-pays for specialists and medicine.

In spite of all these costs, on paper our combined income was just above the poverty level.  We did not qualify for assistance or low-income housing.  We could not rent from a private apartment building because my husband was a convicted felon.  If we were separated, he could live by himself in low-income housing but he needed 24hr care.  Also, he didn’t want to leave me.  We were married for 24 years. 

I have lived in my apartment building for almost 33 years.  But now the cost of housing in my area is increasing and I will eventually have to move. We need affordable housing! So many of us are $400 emergency from crisis. In the Third Reconstruction resolution, The Poor People’s Campaign says that we need to change the definition of poverty and update outdated poverty measures in Pennsylvania and everywhere.  We need a real poverty measure – one that says I’m poor too! 140 million of us are, and we need a moral budget that guarantees housing, healthcare, and recognizes and pays people for their caregiving.

Yvonne, Philadelphia- Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration

With the wide spread of the covid virus, the inability to visit our loved one, the faulty video system, and the mail being out sourced to Florida it has taken a toll on the most meek, the elderly, and those with underlying medical conditions.  Needless to say over 100 people have died while awaiting the Governor to use his power of reprieve to release them, and for the board of pardon grant release, among them was my only living sibling.  I did not find out about my brother’s positive covid virus illness nor hospitalization until I called the prison repeatedly for two days, then a sympathy nurse informed me. After contacting the hospital, the staff informed me they had been asking the prison for the next of kin for over 2 weeks. I stand here with the Poor People’s Campaign to demand an end to the cruel treatment of our loved ones behind the walls.

Heaven, Washington County – Center for Coalfield Justice

Good afternoon and thank you for having me. My name is Heaven Sensky, and I am an environmental justice community organizer with The Center for Coalfield Justice in Washington, PA. I live with my family on a small farm in the county, and I am the first in my family to have had access to a college education. The fossil fuel industry has extracted from our community everything from coal, gas and oil to diversified economic opportunity, clean air and water, and good health. When industry land agents came to our doors at the beginning of the shale gas boom a decade ago, they promised us visions of a flourishing future. They promised us unequivocal economic opportunities for our children, they promised us affordable gas utilities, they even played on our patriotic hearts in promising us prospects of peace through energy independence as our friends and family fought overseas. They ensured our safety and promised us that their new age technology would not impact us or our land as former extractive industries had. Within 3 years, as I entered highschool, we began to see extensive budget cuts to our public schools. As extracurricular opportunities were stripped from us, we could see gas flames high in the skies surrounding our highschool. It became clear to me at this point that we had been duped. 

It wasn’t long after that the kids in my community started getting sick. I lost a friend to a rare childhood cancer, Ewing’s Sarcoma, in 2016. My friend’s illness began with a softball sized tumor in the spine of their back. I, and others, were frightened. I wondered how I spent so many Friday nights, wrapped around each other singing the alma mater, without ever noticing it. Leaders of my school tried to comfort us with promises that our friend’s illness was extraordinarily rare. 

By the time I was 23, I had known at least 4 young people who were battling this rare cancer. In 2018, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported that there were 27 cases of this rare cancer in our communities. It became very clear that something was very seriously wrong. We started to question why such a rare cancer was ravaging our community in such seemingly large numbers. We started organizing with impacted families and asking hard questions to the industry that operates in our backyards and to the politicians that are supposed to protect us. We got little to no answers. The more we asked, the more we realized we didn’t know and how little information we had access to about the impacts of the fossil fuel industry on the health of our communities. Today, there are over 30 cases of Ewing’s Sarcoma in Southwestern Pennsylvania, with a timeline reflective of the fracking boom. This past year, research conducted by Kristina Marusic of Environmental Health News found that children living near well sites and fracking development had biomarkers in their bodies of harmful chemicals “at levels significantly higher than the average American.” We know definitively that fracking poses significant health risks, particularly among children. Despite all of this knowledge, we face continued fossil fuel extraction and little to no representation of the risks in our state and federal legislature. 

We know the industry is disposing of radioactive fracking waste in our landfills and municipal authorities. As we advocate for safer practices, the state legislature has moved forward with bills allowing the use of this waste to salt and dampen our roads. Despite more children getting sick, industry has grown exponentially and under little scrutiny from the state.  The promises of economic prosperity and safe operation have gone to the wayside as the gas extracted at the expense of our health is piped to the Shale Cracker Plant in Monaca. The overwhelming majority of people in my community have no idea that the sacrifices we have made of our land and health for the benefit of industry isn’t heating our homes or bringing home soldiers, but is producing single use plastic and further polluting the entire tri-state area. The ways in which the fossil fuel industry works to further divide urban and rural folks to increase profit and minimize pushback is extensive. Ecological devastation, the use and abuse of our homes and our communities, has detrimental impacts that interconnects with our health, our livelihood, our access to clean water and the existence of a future for our children. 

I am honored and privileged to stand here today with the poor people’s campaign as we forge visions of a future that serves all of us, the people who are expensed for the profit of the few. The injustices we face are connected, we must seek justice for all of us to protect the sum of us. A Third Reconstruction is imperative, our lives depend on it.

Gino, Pittsburgh – Veterans for Peace

War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing to the human condition of the impoverished, specifically veterans earning below the poverty line. Why is war good for the United States? War is a slot machine that this country puts $934 billion dollars into as of September 2021. The only jackpot the country swims in is death, destruction, and debilitating mental health conditions for veterans, and their families, as well as civilian victims and their families. It states in the Third Reconstruction Resolution that the US wars, post 9/11, have killed more than 800,000 people and have displaced more than 35 million more. The United States loves war as much as we all love this push for change to the status quo.

I’m here to call on Congressman Mike Doyle to sign off on this resolution to allocate spending to decrease poverty, ecological devastation, systemic racism, militarism, and the war economy. There are no win columns for war games.

As of 2020, the VA spent $71 billion on veteran medical care, serving more than 6 million patients. Most of the medical care pertains to mental health and none more prominent than the debilitating effects of PTSD. But when this country contributes $934 billion dollars to war, something isn’t only astringently wrong, but something simply does not add up to common sense spending. Mr. Doyle needs to realize that there needs to be a massive reduction in defense spending and funding to the warm brokers of such conflicts in places like Israel, Yemen, and Syria. This is why the Third Reconstruction Resolution of subtracting $350 billion dollars from defense spending is so crucial to the beginning of a phase of subtraction.

The motivation is subtraction, by choking out the majority of all egregious spending, and putting it toward the betterment of racial equality, financial independence for all, and finding a means to the end of ecological devastation.

But make no mistake, subtraction is just the inception of the goal. The culmination of the goal is to arrive at the point where we are able to wipe the equation off the chalkboard, because the problem is solved.

Put People First! Pennsylvania
Twitter: @PPF_PALike Put People First! PA on Facebook

Watch the full video of the PPC nationwide actions on June 7th here: