375 Arrested for Week Five of the Poor People’s Campaign
Week five’s theme was Everybody’s Got the Right to Live: Education, Living Wages, Jobs, Income and Housing. For this reason there was a larger labor presence in most states, with actions geared toward labor, education and housing rights. Major unions came out in support of the Poor People’s Campaign like Service Employees International Union (SEIU), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), International Longshoremen’s Association, Communications Workers of America (CWA), United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and more. The theme of 15 Now was prevalent in most states.
Arrests took place in D.C. (95) and 15 states, including Missouri (77), North Carolina (34), New York (31), South Carolina (19), Tennessee (18), Washington (16), Kansas (16), Minnesota (15), New Jersey (10), New Hampshire (10), Pennsylvania (9), Connecticut (8), Louisiana (8), Arkansas (5) and Alabama (4). This is a total of 375 arrests.
There were 475 arrests in week one, 337 arrests in week two, 247 arrests in week three, 288 arrests in week four, and now the 375 arrests in week five totals 1,722 arrests. This means that week five was the second biggest action week so far, trailing only behind the first week. This also confirms that the Poor People’s Campaign is the largest U.S. civil disobedience campaign in the 21st century.
Rev. Barber and Rev. Liz Theoharis returned to D.C., this week, after traveling to different states last week. According to Democracy Now!, Rev. Liz Theoharis was among nine clergy members arrested at the Supreme Court and they were held overnight in jail by Capitol Police. One of the other faith leaders arrested was Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness. They were arrested for demonstrating outside the building but still on the grounds of the U.S. Supreme Court, a misdemeanor charge. It was essentially a pray-in, where they stood in a circle and prayed while holding hands. They purposely have nine faith leaders represented to reflect the nine Supreme Court Justices. After spending the night in jail they were expected to be arraigned early Tuesday. As the Metro DC Labor Council tweeted, this was the first time in five weeks that anyone was held overnight in D.C. jail.
Rev. Barber was among those arrested as reported by Truthdig. While Rev. Liz Theoharis targeted the Supreme Court, Barber led a larger group to block a street. According to an email sent out by the Poor People’s Campaign, about 80 people were arrested with Rev. Barber in the street of D.C. outside the Supreme Court. Although one campaign member arrested in D.C. said 86 were arrested with Rev. Barber. The 86 people arrested in the street and the nine faith leaders arrested on the Supreme Court is an estimated 95 arrests in D.C.
In one of the largest actions for the campaign, 77 people were arrested for blocking traffic in Jefferson City. In Kansas City the day began at dawn, when 200 people protested outside the McDonald’s on Emanuel Cleaver II Blvd., before leaving for Jefferson City. “Hey hey! Ho ho! These poverty wages got to go!” chanted the large crowd wearing red t-shirts reading: “Stand Up KC” and “We Are Worth More.” Kansas City approved a $10 minimum wage in 2015, to be raised incrementally until it reached $15 in 2022, wrote the Kansas City Star. But the Missouri General Assembly voted to restrict cities from raising the minimum wage higher than the state’s $7.70 minimum wage. Workers from McDonald’s and Popeye’s spoke at the rally.
In Jefferson City speeches were delivered by different union organizations from KC Stand Up to SEIU at the State Capitol building. Activists blocked the street in the morning in front of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry building. They chanted: “Chamber of Commerce, Chamber of Death; Chamber of Commerce, Chamber of Greed.” Police cited people for obstructing police, according to Kansas City Star. Although Truthdig reported citations for “failure to obey orders.” One person who was arrested unintentionally was Truthdig correspondent Michael Nigro while he was live-streaming the arrests. Apparently police gave everyone three warnings to get off the street. Nigro was standing near the sidewalk with one foot on the curb and the other on the street. This prompted him getting arrested. He was held with the others at Cole County jail.
The big push in Missouri is no surprise because of Proposition A, or the state’s right-to-work law, which will appear on the primary ballot on August 7. Missouri’s right-to-work law was signed by former Gov. Eric Greitens last year. The only reason it is up for a vote is because labor organizations collected up to 300,000 signatures to force a statewide vote on it.
For the fifth week in a row people were arrested in Raleigh, North Carolina, with 34 people arrested this week in the Legislative Building. The state budget ensured $15 minimum wage for many public state workers, but it does not reach private workers, nor does it lift a ban on cities and counties that want to have their own living wage ordinances, according to the News & Observer. Activists entered the Legislative Building and fanned out and did three different civil disobedience actions. Three people staged a sit-in inside Tim Moore’s office, the Cleveland County Republican who has been the House speaker since 2014. Dozens of others protested outside the large golden doors that lead to the floor where bills are voted on. The final group was arrested while waiting inside a room where Senate leaders had a meeting scheduled. The 34 people were charged with trespassing.
Albany’s arrests took place in a new spot this week at the Fort Orange Club, an elite club that is the venue for lobbyists to hold fundraisers for politicians. It just so happened that the Fort Orange Club was hosting a fundraiser for a Republican State Senator that very day, and 31 people were arrested for blocking access to the building.
In Columbia, South Carolina, activists rallied around educational funding and teachers salaries, holding signs inside the lobby of the State House that read: “End the school-to-prison pipeline” and “Pack em deep, teach em cheap, the SC way.” After the rally they marched to the Department of Education building several blocks away, where 19 people were arrested for standing in the street and holding a large banner that read: “Road Closed Due to Injustice.” Minister Amiri Hooker, one of those arrested, encouraged the crowd to vote on Tuesday’s primary election. Other people arrested that day included about five clergy members, a few teachers, several members of the International Longshoremen’s Association from Charleston, and about four Food Not Bombs members from Greenville.
In Nashville, 18 people were arrested and charged with vandalism under $1,000 for chalking the Capitol lawn with the words “Built By Slave Labor,” and for erecting 15 wooden crosses honoring the enslaved men who laid the foundation of the building. Fifteen slaves were “loaned” to the state at the beginning of the construction in 1846. The Tennessee Poor People’s Campaign denounced the next-to-zero memorials on the Capitol grounds about slaves, prisoners and Native Americans, while a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, first grand wizard of the KKK, can be found inside the Capitol building. The state Poor People’s Campaign decided to change that, however, and finally gave recognition to slave labor, if only in chalk.
In Olympia activists erected tents to protest homelessness and unaffordable housing, wrote Democracy Now!. Activists put up Tent City in the road on Capitol Way, leading to arrests. The 13 WIBW posted video of the action and claimed 16 people were arrested for the Tent City action. At least two people sat per tent, forcing police to awkwardly declare them under arrest.
In downtown Topeka, 16 people were arrested in front of the Kansas Department for Children and Families administration building. About a hundred people rallied that day and marched through the streets. When they arrived at the DCF headquarters several people tried to enter, but the doors were locked. Among those arrested was Topeka Unitarian Universalist pastor Sarah Oglesby-Dunegan, who led the rally, while a dozen people from the same First Mennonite Church joined the rally. The Poor People’s Campaign rally was joined by union members from Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers, which represents Frito-Lay employees, who announced their solidarity with the campaign. BCTWGM union members picketed the previous Saturday at a Topeka facility and plan additional protests prior to upcoming contract negotiations. The fight is for improved wages because the combination of Frito-Lay’s low wages combined with rising insurance costs “places workers in a hole,” wrote Topeka Capital-Journal.
St. Paul police arrested 15 people near City Hall at the intersection of Wabasha Street and Kellogg Blvd. The arrests took place around 6:10 P.M. without incident, and they were booked at the local jail on suspicion of participating in an unlawful assembly. The action that day focused on the $15 minimum wage movement, with the state campaign working with the state’s 15 Now campaign. Earlier in the day they protested outside of a McDonald’s, and at City Hall they were greeted individually by St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, who along with City Council previously proposed having four community discussions on raising the minimum wage, according to Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
Ten people were arrested on the steps of the Trenton State House for performing a die-in (see video here). This blocked one of the entrances into the State House. One demand was for Democrat state Senate President Sweeney to abandon former Gov. Christie’s trickle-down economics and austerity policies.
A People’s Public Hearing was held in the Executive Council chambers on the second floor of the New Hampshire State House, after activists occupied the space resulting in 10 arrests. About a hundred activists took over the chambers and Arnie Alpert of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC-NH) “called to order a People’s Public Hearing,” wrote New Hampshire Labor News. He cited Article 32 of the state constitution allowing for people to assemble “in an orderly and peaceful manner.” People testifying filled out pink cards, spoke to the committee for five minutes and then received questions. Most individuals talked about personal poverty and injustices. State Troopers ordered people to leave at 5:00 P.M., but ten participants remained, refusing to adjourn the hearing, and were arrested. Arnie Alpert, who called to order the hearing, was among those arrested, with all the clergy and other participants names listed in the NHLN. Those arrested were taken to the barracks for the State Police Troop D where they were booked and charged with criminal trespass as a Class A misdemeanor. All were released by 7:00 P.M.
Nine people were arrested inside the Harrisburg Capitol Building for blocking the entrance doors to the House chamber. The nine people staged a sit-in and laid out banners on the ground, with three of the banners reading “Education,” “Housing” and “Jobs,” while the largest banner read: “Lift from the Bottom.” Penn Live reported that those arrested were singing “Whose [Which]side are you on,” a famous labor union ballad.
At least eight people were arrested in Hartford, Connecticut, for blocking traffic on Broad Street. The Connecticut News Junkie wrote that the General Assembly failed to increase the state’s $10.10 minimum wage earlier in the year, when a bill for $12 minimum wage by 2020 failed to gain any traction. The CNJ also wrote about the large labor presence at this week’s rally that about 150 people attended. Stephanie Johnson, a nurse and member of the AFT-CT, called healthcare a human right. Apparently a lot of politicians attended the rally as well, although national Poor People’s Campaign has a rule not allowing a politician to steal the voices away from the poor. CNJ wrote: “Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill and Rep. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, who are running against each other in a Democratic primary for Sen. Paul Doyle’s seat were there, along with Rep. William Tong, who is running for attorney general, and Jillian Gilchrest who is running against a Democratic incumbent for a state House seat in West Hartford.”
Eight people were arrested in Baton Rouge for blocking an intersection. They were taken to the parish jail instead of just the DPS station.
The Little Rock, Arkansas, State Capitol building was closed only to Poor People’s Campaign members, but remained open to the public. After activists chanted to “shut it down,” police denied them the right to enter the public building, wrote Arkansas Online. The activists then gathered outside the locked east entrance doors that is in a tunnel used by the governor and other politicians, chanting: “let us in.” After asking the group to step back from the door, five people refused to budge and were placed under arrest. In fact the Arkansas Poor People’s Campaign was refused a permit for a rally inside the Capitol building because of two previous arrests by the group.
For the second week in a row protesters were denied entry en masse into the Capitol building. Just as in the previous week when Rev. Barber and 400 others were told only two people from the campaign were allowed in at a time, the group of 125 people this week were only allowed to send in two people after the rally. This time, however, the campaign sent in two people to deliver the petition to respect the rights of the poor. They went to the Governor’s office and found the door was blocked by security and a velvet rope, according to the Courier Journal. Nevertheless they handed the petition directly to a member of Governor Matt Bevin’s staff, who promised to deliver the petition to the governor.
The Boston financial district witnessed an intersection shut down on Franklin and Congress streets during rush hour in, but no arrests were made. Around 20 people, including SEIU members, risked arrest by sitting in a diagonal line across the intersection, but police rerouted traffic and did not make arrests.
Activists interrupted the state Senate and brought the floor session to a halt. From the third floor of the gallery of the Senate chambers, songs and chants interrupted the house floor. No arrests were made. Sergeant-at-arms asked several people to leave until the group dispersed on its own. According to Democracy Now!, hundreds rallied in Sacramento outside the California Association of Realtors’ office to protest evictions, and in fact protesters went there to serve the Association of Realtors’ an eviction notice.
Activists performed a sit-in outside the entrance doors to the Michigan Housing Authority offices, which was blocked by police with bicycles. Michigan Facebook page claimed about 40 people risked arrest with the sit-in, but there has been no media coverage and no videos of actual arrests. Among those risking arrest included clergy and Detroit 15 workers, who wore matching black shirts and orange hats.
A mini Resurrection City consisting of tents and banners was set up in front of the Governor’s Mansion by the Poor People’s Campaign and Fight for 15 Chicago. One banner read: “Gov. Rauner: Stop Killing Us.”