by Jackie Dee King
In a move evoking the defiance of Martin Luther 500 years ago, more than 35 people representing the Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign braved a cold wind and a global pandemic to rally on Beacon Hill March 15.
As Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the doors of the Wittenberg church, thereby setting off the Protestant Reformation, the modern-day protesters attached a scroll containing their 14 priority policy demands to the gates of the Massachusetts State House.
These same demands—addressed to state legislators, governors, and Congress—were delivered simultaneously to 31 State Capitols around the country, as the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival spelled out the measures needed in the first 100 days of the Biden administration to begin addressing the needs of the country’s 140 million poor and low-wealth people.
“We are here today to put out these legislative demands, to speak about power, to challenge systemic barriers, and change this system upside down that continues to perpetuate poverty, ecological devastation, and the war economy,” Rev. Savina Martin, one of the tri-chairs of the MA Poor People’s Campaign (PPC), told the cheering crowd.
Vaughn Goodwin, another tri-chair of the PPC, and an organizer for 1199SEIU, noted the rally would focus on the housing crisis that has unfolded in Massachusetts for years and has intensified during the Covid 19 pandemic. [Housing costs in the Greater Boston area are among the highest in the nation. Displacement and gentrification are rampant.]
Father Jacob Urena said, “We are here because we see what our communities are going through in this pandemic, and what they have been coping with the for last ten to twenty years, under a system that pushes people out of our communities, and sells our buildings to the … next big developer. So we are saying enough is enough. Our communities matter, our homes matter, and our homeless population here in Boston deserves to get housed! We are saying that our elected officials must do better!”
Gwen Brown, a personal care attendant and delegate to 1199SEIU, described some of the suffering her family has undergone during the pandemic. She is a single mother with three children and her longtime partner died of cancer last spring. She led the crowd in a chant of “We need change!” before reading the letter that had been mailed to state officials.
Dan Luker of Veterans for Peace described his upbringing in Washington State. His father was a farmworker who, after 13 years working for the same farmer, made 40 cents above the minimum wage. Dan eventually joined the army—part of the “economic draft”—and was sent to Vietnam “to fight for democracy, to fight for freedom.” But, once there, he discovered that he was not fighting for those values at all. “How can we go around the world fighting for democracy when we don’t even have it here?” he asked.
The protesters dramatically unfurled the oversized scroll containing the 14 policy demands, which then rolled down the wrought-iron gate and front steps of the State House. One by one, protesters came forward and each read out a demand:
- Enact comprehensive, free, and just Covid-19 relief.
- Guarantee quality health care for all, regardless of any preexisting conditions.
- Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour immediately.
- Update the poverty measure.
- Guarantee quality housing for all.
- Enact a federal jobs program to build up investments in infrastructure, public institutions, climate resilience, energy efficiency, socially beneficial industry and jobs in poor and low-income communities.
- Protect and expand voting rights and civil rights.
- Guarantee safe, quality, equitable public education with supports for protections against re-segregation.
- Comprehensive and just immigration reform.
- Ensure all rights of Indigenous peoples.
- Enact fair taxes.
- Use the power of executive orders.
- Redirect the bloated Pentagon budget towards these priorities as a matter of national security.
- Work with the Poor People’s Campaign to establish a permanent presidential council to advocate for this bold agenda.
Later that day, the National PPC conducted a national broadcast, watched by thousands, that presented highlights from the actions at every State Capitol. Those most impacted by the system were the leading voices. The Poor People’s Campaign is a fusion movement that brings together people of all races, religions, geographic origins, and sexual orientations, to combat the five interlocking evils of poverty, racism, ecological devastation, the war economy, and the false moral narrative of religious nationalism. Through its Moral Mondays and other actions, the campaign will continue to pressure the Biden Administration and Congress for more just and humane policies.
The rally was organized by the MA Poor People’s Campaign and sponsored by Mass. Peace Action, Veterans for Peace, American Friends Service Committee, and other groups. A video of the State House rally can be found at: www.facebook.com/181970629051812/videos/136377891659820
—Jackie Dee King is a member of the MA Poor People’s Campaign and a Board member of Mass. Peace Action.