This article appeared in Massachusetts Peace Action’s Summer 2018 Newsletter
A veterans’ encampment on the Boston Common. A prolonged sit-in at Governor Baker’s office in the State House. Traffic snarled for hours in downtown Boston as protesters blocked streets. A large march and rally in Springfield. A rally of 10,000 at the National Mall and a march on the Capitol.
In wave after wave of nonviolent civil disobedience over a period of six weeks this spring, members and allies of the Poor People’s Campaign were determined to disrupt business as usual. Fifty years after the first Poor People’s Campaign, we were calling attention to the continuing evils of poverty, systemic racism, the war economy and militarism, the devastation of our environment, and our nation’s distorted moral narrative. In the US, the wealthiest nation on earth, 140 people are poor or low-income, including 38.2 million (52% of all) children.
Mass. Peace Action joined with anti-poverty activists, labor organizers, faith leaders, and others to push forward the Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign, one of 40 state branches that took action around the country. By the end of the period, more than 100 people had engaged in civil disobedience in Massachusetts and more than 9,000 acts of civil disobedience had been committed nationwide.
On May 28-29, MAPA, Veterans for Peace, Dorchester People for Peace, the American Friends Service Committee in Massachusetts, and others joined with the PPC to stage an overnight Veterans’ Encampment, marked by 30 tents, on the Boston Common. We held teach-ins on war all afternoon and the next morning.
During the teach-ins, Cambridge activist Ray Matsumiya spoke about his grandfather, who lived in Hiroshima as a child in 1945 and was poisoned by radiation. Korean-American activist Chung-Wha Hong talked about the need to bring peace to the Korean peninsula. MAPA Board member Jonathan King and Veteran for Peace Paul Atwood spoke about how the military industrial complex is draining resources from the civilian economy. Palestinian student Nasir Almasri and MAPA’s Jeff Klein spoke about Palestine and the Middle East. Muslim feminist Hayat Imam addressed the roots of US militarism. Those assembled marched to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on the Common, laid roses in memory of those who served, and held a brief but moving service.
On May 29, MAPA members Rosemary Kean, John MacDougall, Jeanne Winner, Thea Paneth, Cathy Hoffman, and Cole Harrison joined VFP’s Dan Luker and Randy Morantes, AFSC’s Joseph Gerson, First Parish Bedford’s John Gibbons, and six others, for a sit-in at Governor Baker’s office inside the State House. They were arrested and later released at Boston Municipal Court after accepting responsibility for civil trespassing. See video highlights of the day at bit.ly/ppc-war-economy.
On June 4, 300 activists in Springfield rallied, marched, and sat in to protest environmental racism, climate destruction, and for the right to health; 16 people received a summons for trespassing. On June 11, 300 people marched through Boston’s financial district protesting economic inequality and calling for the right to a living wage, health care, and a quality education. Twenty-five people sat-in at Post Office Square and snarled traffic for four hours, prompting Boston police chief William Evans to defend on the radio his decision not to arrest the protesters.
Now that the six weeks of civil disobedience are past, the Poor People’s Campaign plans to focus on grassroots organizing and voter registration in the summer and fall.