By Kerry Taylor
Sixteen poor people, clergy and advocates were arrested near the Governor’s Mansion Monday as the South Carolina Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival entered its sixth and final week of a historic season of nonviolent direct action. This brings the total of arrestees in Columbia to 82 over the past six weeks. The action in South Carolina was part of a wave of protests hitting 35 state capitals and Washington, D.C.
Participants in Monday’s nonviolent direct action carried signs that read, “We Are A New And Unsettling Force” and a banner reading “The People’s House, Not Your McMansion.” After 13 were arrested in front of the Mansion another three were arrested for blocking a street in front of Governor McMaster’s campaign office.
Among those arrested were 83-year-old Louise Brown of Charleston. Brown was last arrested in 1969 when she took part in the historic Charleston hospital workers strike. “We fought for living wages and respect then, and we need to do the same thing today,” said Brown who worked as a nurse’s aide.
Immediately preceding the arrests, clergy attempted to deliver a letter from the campaign to Governor McMaster. The letter included the following demands:
1. Immediate withdrawal of the South Carolina Army National Guard from the Texas-Mexico border.
2. Condemnation of the Department of Homeland Security’s separation of immigrant children from their parents—a practice with an especially odious history in South Carolina.
3. A 15% raise for all state employees in keeping with the 2016 salary study commissioned by the legislature.
4. Expansion of Medicaid as a first step toward healthcare for all South Carolina residents.
5. Repeal of the Baseload Review Act and restitution from SCANA executives for the failed $9 billion V.C. Summer nuclear plant.
During a brief program before the arrests, several speakers spoke to the need for the Poor People’s Campaign. This campaign brings together “immigrants with teachers, with students, and with the elderly and all of the American people who are not rich—all of those who are following their dreams of having a better future for their families,” said Ana Lopez, a native of Mexico who has lived in South Carolina for nearly ten years. “That future is not a wall. That future is not a policy of separating mothers from their babies. It is an American Dream and it is worth fighting for.”
Charleston longshoreman Leonard Riley spoke on behalf of a dozen union members who were present at the protest. “My union the ILA has fought for 150 years—so that we can enjoy good wages, safety on the docks and security at home through good healthcare and retirement benefits. But it doesn’t stop there because we believe in solidarity,” said Riley, a member of International Longshoreman’s Association, Local 1422. “We believe that every South Carolina worker, every human being is entitled to the good things that the longshoremen in Charleston have.”
On Monday, a delegation of South Carolina Poor People’s Campaign participants will travel to Washington, D.C., for a week of trainings and actions culminating in a massive rally at the U.S. Capitol June 23 to launch the second phase of the campaign. Campaign participants travelling to DC are available for interview.
Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call to action in his I Have a Dream Speech to, “Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed,” advocates will return to South Carolina following the June 23 rally to continue their organizing efforts with an eye toward voter registration and mobilization, political education and power building from the bottom up.
Over the last six weeks, 82 participants have been arrested in South Carolina as part of the Poor People’s Campaign. Nationwide, more than 2,000 Poor People’s Campaign activists have been arrested in the most expansive wave of nonviolent direct action in U.S. history. The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival has chapters in three dozen states.
THE UNFINISHED WORK OF 1968 POOR PEOPLE’S CAMPAIGN
The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is co-organized by Repairers of the Breach, a social justice organization founded by the Rev. Barber; the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary; and hundreds of local and national grassroots groups across the country.
On May 14, campaign co-chairs the Revs. William Barber and Liz Theoharis kicked off a six-week season of nonviolent direct action demanding new programs to fight systemic poverty and racism, immediate attention to ecological devastation and measures to curb militarism and the war economy. For four consecutive weeks, protesters have taken to state capitols across the country, with thousands arrested nationwide for engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience.
On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings convened a two-hour hearing on Capitol Hill to examine poverty and hear testimony from people organizing with the Poor People’s Campaign around the country. They heard firsthand accounts from an undocumented California woman struggling to raise a family; from an Alabama woman whose daughter died in her arms because the state refused to expand Medicaid; and from a Flint woman who is fighting for clean water in her community. Watch the hearing here.
The protests from coast to coast are reigniting the Poor People’s Campaign, the 1968 movement started by Dr. King and so many others to challenge racism, poverty and militarism. King and his associates with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference made plans for the campaign in South Carolina at the Penn Center, near Beaufort. The Campaign is expected to be a multi-year effort, but over the first 40 days, poor and disenfranchised people, moral leaders and advocates are engaging in nonviolent direct action, including by mobilizing voters, knocking on tens of thousands of doors, and holding teach-ins, among other activities, as a moral fusion movement comprised of people of all races and religions takes off.
For the past two years, leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival have carried out a listening tour in dozens of states across this nation, meeting with tens of thousands of people from El Paso, Texas to Marks, Mississippi to Greenville, South Carolina.Led by the Revs. Barber and Theoharis, the campaign has gathered testimonies from hundreds of poor people and listened to their demands for a better society.
A Poor People’s Campaign Moral Agenda, announced last month, was drawn from this listening tour, while an audit of America conducted with allied organizations, including the Institute for Policy Studies and the Urban Institute, showed that, in many ways, we are worse off than we were in 1968.
The Moral Agenda, which is guiding the 40 days of actions, calls for major changes to address systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy and our distorted moral narrative, including repeal of the 2017 federal tax law, implementation of federal and state living wage laws, universal single-payer health care, and clean water for all.