“Spill the Tea!” Reflections from the Massachusetts Truth and Poverty Bus Tour

Forward together! The Massachusetts Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

Originally published by Kairos: The Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice

The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival‘s National Emergency Truth and Poverty Tour continues this spring across 32 states. The tour shines a light on the widespread injustice and poverty plaguing this nation. The tour also highlights the organized resistance of the poor to these conditions and helps us continue to build the movement we need to end poverty.

The following reflection was written by Minister Savina Martin, co-chair of the Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign. Savina was born and raised in the historic Boston, Massachusetts community called Roxbury. She has experienced homelessness and spent many years advocating on behalf of homeless women. She was a leader with the National Union of the Homeless in the 1980s and 90s, and has also worked with homeless female veterans from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom in San Diego, California.

Our “Spill the Tea” bus tour in Boston on April 28 was designed to be a mobile teach-in. We sought to witness the plight, but also hold up the fight and insight of the poor. The tour helped to reveal the interlocking and intersecting evils that plague our city and nation: systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy, and the distorted moral narrative. Throughout the day we visited the poorest areas of Boston, especially the Roxbury neighborhood, but held our last stop in the wealthiest section of Boston to make clear the inseparable relationship between the creation of wealth and the creation of poverty. 

The Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign Truth and Poverty Bus Tour on the move.

We covered a 20-mile circumference of the city in a 48-passenger yellow charter school bus driven by Francisco, who by the end, feeling the impact of the stories he heard and reality he saw, considered himself part of our tour. The energy on the bus was kept high through songs and chants, but also broken up with moments of quiet reflection as we witnessed the devastating reality of how this city and nation mistreat human life.  

It was important for our tour to be grounded in the long history of struggle and resistance that has taken place in the under-served communities of Boston. Driving down Blue Hill Avenue we remembered the moment in 1967 when the fierce women from Mothers of Adequate Welfare (MAW) chained themselves to radiators inside the Grove Hall Welfare office to demand equal food distribution. The event sparked a three-day uprising where fifteen blocks of shops and businesses along Blue Hill Avenue were burned down. A year later the avenue would burn again when riots broke out after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We were joined by a number of faith leaders including the national vice president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Carey McDonald. Carey offered reflections and prayers about how we must love each other and remember in this struggle for justice that we are not alone and indeed that this struggle “cannot be done alone.”

Carey McDonald (left), Vice President of the Unitarian Universalists of America, offers a prayer at a stop in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, which is being gentrified.

One of the most compelling and remarkable moments came from a nine year old middle school student who gave testimony about the impact of addiction on the lives and education of our youth. She asked, “Why do I have to find needles in my schoolyard?”, and stirred our hearts with a powerful song about the love of God.   

These middle school students and their parents deeply moved the crowd as they shared what it was like to live next to the human devastation taking place in “Methadone Mile.” Methadone Mile is a scene of desperation and points to the deep failure of our system. Homelessness, a city jail, hospitals, drug-treatment clinics and public drugs are all squeezed together in Methadone Mile. As our bus drove through we witnessed someone suffering from what appeared to be an overdose. He was lying on the ground as police and people gathered around. Sadly this is an everyday part of life on “Methadone Mile,” where there is an outright crisis of opioid addition.

It was painful to see such neglect and devastation in our community, but we had to remind ourselves of the hope and strength we were finding by coming together on this tour and with thousands of others across the nation as a part of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

At one of our final stops we heard from James Shearer. James is formally homeless and is now a leader with the Massachusetts Union of the Homeless. His leadership and that of the homeless across the nation who are organizing and fighting back is one of the many reminders that the pain and degradation of poverty will not have the final word.

At the end of the tour we gathered at the Marcus Garvey community center, which was started almost 30 years ago as part of the struggle for addiction treatment in the poorer neighborhoods of the city. In this welcoming and historic spot we had some time to share a meal, reflect, and hear from our Campaign’s national co-chair, Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis.  Rev. Liz inspired us with reflections on the powerful organizing she was seeing across the nation as part of the national bus tours and she energized our group with details of the upcoming Poor People’s Moral Action Congress in Washington, DC.

Forward Together!