Thirteen people protesting a “pre-emption” proposal, which prevents local governments from raising minimum wages, were arrested Monday at the State Office Building near the state capitol, kicking off a nationwide, six-week season of nonviolent direct action by the Poor People’s Campaign.
The arrests were in Rep. Pat Garofalo’s office, an author of HF600, the pre-emption bill. Governor Mark Dayton vetoed a version of the bill in 2017.
“Pre-emption means poverty. It will deny workers the right of having fair minimum wages across the industry,” said Eli Edleson-Stein, of ROC United, which represents restaurant workers, in a Star Tribune article about the event. “We want Governor Dayton to veto this bill.”
The arrests and a rally afterward outside the State Office Building in support of the protesters, by more than 200 supporters of the Minnesota Poor People’s Campaign, was one of more than 30 such actions across the nation Monday. The campaign is demanding new initiatives to fight systemic poverty and racism, immediate attention to ecological devastation and measures to curb militarism and the war economy. Nationwide, thousands were arrested— from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Jefferson City, Missouri, to Sacramento, California— one of the most expansive waves of nonviolent civil disobedience in U.S. history.
Among those arrested were the prominent national religious leaders who are co-chairs of the “Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.” The Revs. William J. Barber II and Liz Theoharis were arrested outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Poor People’s Campaign Demands
Carrying banners that read “Fight Poverty, Not the Poor,” and “Nothing Would Be More Tragic Than to Turn Back Now,” participants in the Poor People’s Campaign are demanding a restoration of the Voting Rights Act, 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, among other important public investments.
“We’re living in an impoverished democracy,” said the Rev. Barber. “People across the country are standing up against the lie of scarcity. We know that in the richest country in the world, there is no reason for children to go hungry, for the sick to be denied healthcare and for citizens to have their votes suppressed.”
The protests Monday mark an emphatic revival of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, an expansion of the civil rights movement , started by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shortly before he was assassinated. That 1968 campaigned was joined by many people of all races and by many causes to challenge racism, sexism, poverty and militarism. Over the next 40 days, poor and disenfranchised people, moral leaders and advocates will engage in nonviolent direct action, including mobilization of voters, knocking on tens of thousands of doors, and holding teach-ins.
“Fifty years ago, Dr. King called for the poor and dispossessed of all races to unite and take action together—to become ‘a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life,’” said the Rev. Theoharis. “Today, as poor people Minnesota and all over the country take action and refuse to be ignored any longer, that ‘unsettling force’ has arrived. They’re heeding Dr. King’s call: ‘We’re here, we’re poor, you have made us this way and we’ve come to stay until you do something about it.’”
Protesters Monday highlighted child poverty, women in poverty and people with disabilities. Monday’s actions come as the Trump administration pushes work requirements for SNAP recipients and seeks to cut $7 billion from a child healthcare program.
Protests in subsequent weeks will focus on persecution of immigrants, systemic racism, veterans and the war economy, ecological devastation, inequality, and our nation’s distorted moral narrative. At the conclusion of the 40 days, on June 23, poor people, clergy and advocates from coast to coast will join together for a mass mobilization at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. They’ll then return to Minnesota and other states to continue building the campaign, which is expected to be a multi-year effort.
Over 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 South Charleston, West Virginia. 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, the nation’s poor are worse off than they were in 1968.
The Campaign draws on the unfinished work of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, reigniting the effort led by civil rights organizations, labor union and tenant unions, farm workers, Native American elders and grassroots organizers to foster a moral revolution of values. Despite real political wins in 1968 and beyond, the original Poor People’s Campaign was tragically cut short, both by Dr. King’s assassination and by the subversion of the coalition that sustained it. Still, the original vision and many of its followers did not go away.
Editor’s note: The writer, Dane Smith, is Minnesota Poor People’s Campaign News Media Coordinator