2018 PPEHRC March on Washington showcases voices of the poor

PPEHRC 2018 arrived in DC safely

Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC) successfully completed its march this year from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital. Although they have yet to garner the media attention they merit, there were a host of small wins, the most important being how it helps the general public identify the root causes of poverty today. Never is there more evidence that there is a lot of work before the Poor People’s Campaign then now, because so many people are conditioned by false consciousness and afraid of not conforming with accepted norms. Discovering the boundaries of new false norms which keep people locked into cycles of poverty was one of the signature accomplishments of the 2018 PPEHRC March on Washington.

(Poor people are being arrested for lingering on lawns and trying to meet with representatives, but rich people are allowed to party and cheer their heads off on the streets half-naked all night long.)

The symbolic march coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968, when over 50,000 people participated in rallies and demands for a new Economic Bill of Rights. At that time, the primary demands were a $30 billion in anti-poverty aid, commitment to full employment, guaranteed income, and annual construction of 500,000 affordable residences. The 1968 Poor People’s Campaign was phenomenal, with tens of thousands of travelers taking to the road, and at least 3000 people taking up residence at Resurrection City at the National Mall. During those weeks of daily meetings and teach-ins, people shared food, love, stories, and music like it was free water. The poor people wanted peace, and the government conceded on civil rights.

The 2018 Poor People’s Campaign is a study in contrasts. The establishment including universities, libraries, and other organizations are touting the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 as a commemorative event, but the lens is largely historical. Few attempt to relate with today’s poverty issues beyond sitting in a plush air-conditioned auditorium. Today such establishments even hire security guards to discourage poor and homeless visitors from venturing inside. As detailed below, poor people were threatened with arrest just for sitting on a university lawn. Even the word “poor” is often used as a pejorative or to cast aspersions by closed-minded reactionaries.

Stop Pimping Us

This is why PPEHRC sent a powerful message to the leaders of the nation direct from the poor themselves, not just those claiming to represent them.

Here is how poverty “pimping” is defined by Bork of Realneo.us:

The term “poverty pimp” is defined as a derogatory label for an individual or group which, to its own benefit, acts as an intermediary on behalf of the poor. Literally, a poverty pimp is an individual or group who solicits for the poor, or it can mean, a welfare system procurer. Poverty pimps gain a higher quality of existence from exploiting the poverty of others…There are whole classes of people who live off the services provided to the poor.

But since America has transitioned to a services-based economy, how bad can that be? Bork, a homeless person, connotes it to include people who cause harm by perpetuating poverty in all its forms such as harassment, depriving them of essential services, and furnishing substandard quality for profit-making whether in housing or education. It is a huge industry, with literally hundreds of millions given away to think-tanks, academic institutions, and charities by foundations, not including by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This is why the real homelessness advocates ought to be the poor people themselves, according to organizations such as the PPEHRC.

We are the poor people, walking for ourselves, ’cause we don’t need corporations or non-profiteers to speak for us. We can speak, teach, and build for ourselves. We just need people to stop pimping us. –Tiny, PPEHRC Advocate, Poor Magazine

Social service organizations are the greatest benefactors from monies dedicated by the federal budget and private foundations. Millions of dollars are granted for studying new ways to house the poor, for building prisons, and for private contractors. Criminalization of the poor ensures that those who cannot afford to pay citations may be housed in prisons indefinitely. The Republicans even wants to increase outsourcing, even when the for-profit industry can be more corrupt than government services.

Here is how African-American woman named “T” described conditions in Florida to PNN-TV:

They really don’t give a darn about us. I had an officer come and tell me, ‘If I was able, I would kill you all.’…But that’s why I’m here is because of incidents of that sort. I am a victim of having everything I possibly own in this world taken away by the police because I am homeless. But now I am stepping up and making a difference and hopefully everybody gets to see this.

St Petersburg, Florida is probably the most inhumane city in the United States. They banned serving meals to homeless people in public. They passed a law making it a crime to lean against a wall, which is the standing option for homeless people who can find no place to sit. A well-built white man whom no one would suspect of being homeless also shared his story of how the hurricanes had encouraged landlords to jack up the rents to twice as high as they used to be. His stoic wife is glad for what she hopes is a good move.

Walking the Talk

Organized by Cheri Honkala, Green Party running mate of presidential candidate Jill Stein, PPEHRC experienced many small wins from completing this 135 mile, 9-day walk from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. First and foremost, everyone made it with no serious mishaps along the way. This was very important because there were disabled, minors, and elderly people who made the journey because they understand how the war on poverty is turning ugly due to slumlords occupying the highest offices in the land.

Despite having planned overnights and drivers to transport tired walkers, there were still run-ins with the law. For instance, on the first day, someone called the police on the group because they wanted to rest and were sitting on a porch in a blighted neighborhood. During Day 3, the marchers stopped at Lincoln University, a historically black college and university (HBCU), to use some facilities to freshen up. Instead, they were asked to move away from the lawn so it could be mowed, and the police were called.

Secondly, the journey was a time to learn about and from one another, to invent songs and poems, and to connect with nature and appreciate one’s humanity. For instance, the pilgrims shared ideals and warm welcomes from community churches in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and especially in the District of Columbia. They were offered warm meals, showers, a place to lay down to sleep, and free work space.

Poverty scholarship took place offering nourishment for the mind and the soul. Poor TV conducted interviews with various travelers. Tara Colon, who participated in the 2013 Green Jobs March from Philly to D.C., told PNN-TV:

Poverty is man-made, not divine by God. And if it is man who constructed this system, then man can deconstruct the system of poverty. God cries every time he sees his children still hungry, still homeless, still without healthcare, when he has given us the miracle of intelligence to cure so many illnesses, so many afflictions. Because of not having access to that health care, his children are still dying. That’s why I’m in this march.

PPEHRC planned a full itinerary during their weekend stay in Washington, D.C., but they ran up against a few challenges due to a myriad of ongoing events. Disappointingly, not one councilman welcomed the heroes and heroines who completed this historic 135-mile marathon for the poor.

Fighting Oppression from the Frontline

Even more evidence of oppressive times ahead for poor people occurred on Monday, June 11th, when the PPEHRC tried to hold a meeting at the Department of Housing and Urban Development now headed by Dr. Ben Carson. While most federal offices even at the national level practice an open-door policy for visitors, that no longer appeared to be the case.

Reverend Keith Collins told AGN:

They pulled a bait -and-switch on us at HUD. They staged a fake draw in, then arrested us as soon as we got inside.

In the face of such an outrage, maybe it is time the “Welcome to HUD” sign above the main entranceway be taken down. In the age of pay-to-play, elites can arrange special meetings, while the poor are arrested right after crossing the threshold. The exercise in First Amendment freedom of speech and freedom of the press airing grievances over HUD’s bias for business improvement districts had to wait. So would the exercise defending how the Fourth Amendment applies to homeless people, that their belongings should not be seized or destroyed even if they have to be evicted.

The next day, June 12th, the PPEHRC experienced a more rewarding experience in front of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Perhaps homeless protesters wanted more options after the 2013 Shut the Chamber March from Philadelphia. This year although they got no closer to the door, they nevertheless staged a successful teach-in. The golden moment arose when Green Party leader Cheri Honkala noticed an all-America banner with the words “America Built by Dreamers” and challenged the protesters:

This sign is so dangerous; can anybody speak to this here?

It was quite spontaneous. Tiny expressed dismay over the co-optation of the word “Dreamers” when in reality, under the Trump Administration, people are being deported. Pastor Collins saw it in light of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., expressing his dream for the day when people are not suffering from exploitation and there is wealth redistribution. Leroy, who is disabled, said that everyone thinks they know about Martin Luther King, Jr., but they don’t know much “about Martin Luther King, Jr. and police brutality.” Another African-American activist commented at length on the over-optimistic portrayal of people of color, women, the aged, and college students when these are among today’s most oppressed.

Gesticulating at the banner “America Built by Dreamers” the man cried out:

That is just an illusion! They are from the most oppressed groups in this country!… They put up a picture of people whose voices are not heard. And back to just the whole sign in general…I go to sleep every night, I dream. This country ain’t built by me!

The group decided to pose under the banner as a fitting contrast with the true representatives of the dream whether deferred or accomplished, fiction or reality.

Rediscovering Moral Compass

Back at Dupont Circle, the dedicated group more than earned a sumptuous lunch provided by the local community service organization. Everyone reflected on their accomplishments over the journey, despite the 2-hour arrest, despite Monday’s hostile take-down of the music stage and tents, or having to contend with other ongoing events.

For the homeless regulars, it was as beautiful as a warm spring day, and Ms. Honkala had at least four invites for interviews. People lounged on the grass, sat on the comfortable benches underneath shady trees, watched the fountain, and played chess. Josie described the blisters she got from walking so far, but that as a recent college graduate she felt honored and humbled to be a part of this. Henry Coles looked forward to spending time with his nephews and nieces, despite struggling with a permanently damaged knee.

At the final prayer service, a white male minister from Refuge Ministries in Tennessee spoke about how they were the first Green Party to endorse the march, and that he was proud that they had managed to rebuild an old home that will house four homeless people. In a big circle, everyone prayed and voiced their final reflections or shared songs and poems. Minister Mel of Maryland prayed that our hearts would win in the battles against eviction, because there are a lot of unhoused women and children.

Finally, the PPEHRC sends a powerful statement to the leaders of the nation, even if many pretend not to notice. In an era of rivalry and banality, residents and tourists spent the weekend wandering from bar to bar celebrating the National Capitals Stanley Cup win. Police erected barricades to protect the partiers, but in contrast, sent in armed riot squadrons to Dupont Circle just after PPEHRC‘s permit had expired.

The poor trapped in metro regions around the country realize that the success model of capital creation increases exploitation and oppression. Isn’t that in itself indicative of the misguided priorities of our country today? Pandering to the highest paying renters or homeowners feeds the narrative that class-consciousness, indifference, and contempt for the poor is fine. It perpetuates systems of police brutality, profiling of the poor and minorities, and encourages young people to chase the slum-lording career ladder.

As the Poor People’s Campaign states, this campaign ongoing. For the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, the Homeless Marathon began on the last day of the march because this is the launching of a national movement. The marchers’ expeditions along the way successfully signify how much work remains to be done. As noted above, other wins included peripatetic learning, broadcasting the thoughts and perspectives of participants, recording events when protesters’ rights as citizens were infringed upon, sharing by everyone on social media, and empowering those who work, live with, and advocate for the poor along the way, whether they are youthful dreamers or sagely builders of dreams.

Note: At least 30 people participated in marching, many more who did not come all the way, including long list of supporters and endorsers. Thanks to Poor News Network for interviews and footage.

Photo and report by AGN © 2018