Poor People’s Campaign puts bodies on the line

MN protests focus on systemic racism, economic justice

MN Poor Peoples Campaign
Protesters at MN Poor Peoples Campaign rally on May 14. Facebook/MN Poor People’s Campaign

The Poor People Campaign’s month-long “wave” of local nonviolent civil disobedience is now in its second week. An estimated 200 supporters participated in protests Monday and Tuesday, May 14-15 at the State Capitol and at the Whipple Federal Building in St. Paul, respectively.

The protests were part of the Poor People’s Campaign’s “Moral Agenda,” introduced in April by its national co-chairs, the Revs. William Barber II and Liz Theoharis. The agenda has called for 40 days of action to address such issues as systemic racism, poverty and inequality; ecological devastation; war economy and militarism; and national morality. It expects to end with a mass rally in Washington, D.C. June 23.

Minnesota is one of 30 states holding events in support of the national effort. “We are in direct communication with the national campaign,” said DeWayne Davis in an MSR phone interview. Davis is tri-chair of the Minnesota Poor People’s Campaign and senior pastor of All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church.

“Every local area has its own unique approach to this,” Davis said. “They want to know what we are doing here and [how to] amplify the issues that are specific to Minnesota. We have been very pleased with their support, too.”

Thirteen protesters were arrested during the May 14 demonstration at State Rep. Pat Garofalo’s (R-Farmington) Saint Paul office.  Garofalo is co-sponsor of a “pre-emption” bill (HF 600) that would prohibit city governments from passing their own minimum wage or paid leave laws. It passed the House 76-53 and is now in the Senate.

A similar bill was vetoed last year by Gov. Mark Dayton, but according to Davis, there has been no word from the governor’s office if he will do the same if the bill is passed and reaches his desk.  “The governor is not putting out a sense of what he’s doing,” said Davis.

“Our rally was about demanding dignity for women and working families,” Davis continued. “We’ve had more than 200 people come out and [give] personal testimonies on trying to make a living on less than a living wage. It gave us a lot of momentum going into the next few weeks of action.”

MN Poor Peoples Campaign
Campaign protesters at MN Poor Peoples Campaign rally on May 14. Facebook/MN Poor People’s Campaign

Davis said that the arrests have galvanized his group. “If legislators think that this is going to stop people from making their voices heard, they are sorely mistaken,” he noted, adding that the number of people signing up for direct action training has almost doubled.

He called the arrested protesters “brave, courageous, prophetic people to occupy the [State office] building and get arrested,” Davis said. “They put their bodies on the line.”

He said the Minnesota Poor People’s Campaign is focusing on systemic racism and economic justice. “We are putting our focus on the unjust deportation of DREAMERS and immigrants, and separation of families,” Davis explained. “The work of I.C.E. [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] in Minnesota has been very aggressive and very relentless. Our rallies are focusing on a just immigration policy and call attention to how horrible the immigration enforcement agency has been treating families, and especially children.”

Davis said that thus far the local protests have mainly been at the State Capitol.

“The day after Memorial Day we are going to have a rally for a peace economy,” he announced of the May 29 jointly planned event with Veterans for Peace and Women Against Military Madness. It is expected “to call attention to the increasing mobilization for war and how that detracts from a peace economy that supports working-class families.

“We have been very clear in where we are going” with the protests, Davis said. “We have people who are committed to direct action.” He also encouraged anyone interested in joining the Campaign or signing up for civil disobedience training to go to their Facebook page or visit MNPoor PeoplesCampaign.org.

“This is going to be an exciting time of getting the attention of our lawmakers and our citizens,” Davis said. “It is going better than we hoped. We found out that the power of the message is getting through.”

Editor’s Update

The MN Poor People’s Campaign held another protest Wednesday, May 22 addressing immigration policies. PPC News Media Coordinator Dane Smith reported 18 protesters arrested after blocking the Fort Snelling station on Minneapolis Light Rail’s Blue Line. The location, he said, was picked because of its proximity to I.C.E. field office. Protesters disrupted the traffic at both the light rail line and I.C.E. parking lot for about two hours until some were arrested, he said.