This past Monday, I was finally able to make it down to Olympia for the weekly Poor People’s Campaign rally and action at the Capitol. As always, I was impressed and humbled by the broad, intersectional coalition the Poor People’s Campaign is building.
America is in need of a nationwide moral re-centering, and that’s what the Poor People’s Campaign is about. They’ve been protesting in state capitols nationwide every Monday since May 14. Each week has a theme. This past week’s was the health of human beings and our planet, with a focus on how profit-driven environmental degradation most often impacts poor people, specifically poor communities of color.
At the rally, one amazing young woman shared the story of her father’s death from cancer after he was exposed to poisonous chemicals both on the job and at their family home near the plant where he worked. Another man spoke of his son’s death by suicide after he was discharged from a for-profit treatment facility while he was still suicidal. These kinds of stories are hard to hear, but we have to listen with compassion and then stand in solidarity. That’s the only way we’re ever going to get to the humane, decent, equitable country we’re dreaming of.
As an upper-middle class Seattleite, I felt awkward showing up at this event when I was so obviously a member of the oppressive class. I won’t sugar coat it, there were folks who didn’t seem too happy to have me there. That’s okay; it’s not the job of oppressed people to make the oppressors feel welcome. It’s our job to show up for their right to live because it’s the right thing to do – even when we feel uncomfortable or unwelcome.
This is critical for our well-being as well as theirs, because our humanity is bound up with theirs. Our economic privilege can be purchased at their expense, but our freedom will only come when everyone is free. Also, so many people cannot afford to take time away from their constant scramble for survival to protest for their own rights, so if you’re privileged enough to have a job that lets you take a Monday off, please come.
This coming week’s theme is “Everybody’s Got the Right to Live: Education, Living Wage, Jobs, Income, and Housing:”
This week’s action addresses so many critical problems in America today. The huge inflation of housing costs from $23,500 fifty years ago to $323,000 now. The fact that families can’t afford to send their kids to college because college costs two and a half times more now than it did in 1968 (that’s with inflation!). And because almost half of all houseless people in the US have jobs—they just don’t pay enough.
The pre-event meeting takes place at 11am at the First Christian Church in Olympia. The rally itself takes place at 2pm on the Capitol steps. You can get more details and RSVP here.
The specific direct actions aren’t shared until the day of the event, which means that you’ll want to be ready for anything:
- Wear flexible attire and bring sunscreen. I assumed because one of the past actions had been indoors that future actions would be as well. That ended up not being the case. Thankfully, I just get browner in the sun, but my fairer-skinned comrades will want to be ready with the SPF.
- Bring only what you can carry. I made the mistake of bringing along my computer, thinking that it might be useful; but it just ended up getting in the way. Bring a protest sign, a light backpack with snacks, water, and anything else you might need, and be prepared to change locations several times throughout the day.
- Offer rides and housing. (There’s a place to do that on the RSVP form.)
- If you choose to participate in civil disobedience, please show up at the First Christian Church promptly at 11 to get the full training and take the nonviolence pledge. (I made the mistake of getting there late because I didn’t know the drill.) Also, please recognize that civil disobedience is not a photo op. It was made abundantly clear to us multiple times throughout the day that people using photos from past civil disobedience actions as their social media cover photos was inappropriate and not welcome. It’s natural to feel proud of yourself for sticking your neck out for what you believe in, but the focus needs to remain on the message of the campaign and not on your personal moment of pride.
I plan to be in Olympia this coming Monday, June 11 for this week’s action and I hope to see you there.
If you’re elsewhere in the country, you can find information about your statewide Poor People’s Campaign at poorpeoplescampaign.org.