Dozens arrested in Augusta at Governor’s residence as Maine joins nationwide Poor People’s Campaign launch

A National Call for Moral Revival saw 22 arrested, above, at the Governor's residence in Augusta.

Protesters Demand Sweeping Overhaul of Nation’s Voting Rights Laws, Policies to Address Poverty, Ecological Devastation, War Economy, Medicaid Expansion, No cuts to SNAP

By Ramona du Houx

Twenty-two people were arrested May 15, 2018 at the Maine State capitol, kicking off in Maine a six-week season of nonviolent direct action by the Poor People’s Campaign. The protests will be nationwide. 

Maine was one of more than 30 states across the country demanding new governmental programs to fight systemic poverty and racism, immediate attention to ecological devastation and measures to curb militarism and the cut the budget for wars. Nationwide, thousands were arrested— from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Jefferson City, Missouri, to Sacramento, California.

Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival co-chairs the Revs. William J. Barber II and Liz Theoharis were arrested outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. alongside hundreds of people from dozens of states. Many of whom continue to be hurt by injustices such as voter suppression, poverty wages, polluted drinking water and other issues too often ignored. 

Protestors in Augusta at the Bliane House, 22 were arrested demanding justice for the poor and marganilized

“I’m here in Washington because too many Mainers are poor and are already struggling to get food, housing, or medical insurance. Our state government is trying to make it harder to get and keep help, and our federal government is using the tax law to siphon money from programs that serve the poor in order to give the largest possible tax breaks to the super rich and the huge corporations they control. As a disabled woman with a child who has lacked health insurance most of her life, I had to take the opportunity PPC Maine offered to challenge our politicians’ immoral behavior,” said Karen Lane.

 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 changes.

“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 marked an emphatic reigniting of the Poor People’s Campaign, the 1968 movement started by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many others to challenge racism, poverty and militarism. 

“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, co-chair of the Campaign. “Today, as poor people in Maine 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.’” 

Over the next 40 days, poor and disenfranchised people, moral leaders and advocates will engage 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 in Maine and beyond.

“I am one of the poor people who this campaign is all about. I was homeless for ten months last year and now that I am housed and paying rent, I rely on my SNAP benefits in order to keep eating. SNAP allots $192.00 a month maximum for a single person.And now the State and Federal Governments are contemplating ways to cut the SNAP program.  We cannot allow this to happen,” said Carolyn Silvius. “A government who would allow it's people, especially it's elderly and it's children, to starve, is an immoral government.  We, the poor, are the majority in this country and we've been silent for too long and we won't be silent anymore. Food is life. Everyone has a right to live. Everyone has a right to eat.”

Protesters highlighted child poverty, women in poverty and people with disabilities.

Protests in subsequent weeks will focus on 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 Maine 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. 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. 

"The distorted moral narrative of this country tells us that the evils of systemic racism, poverty, militarism, and ecological devastation are not only unavoidable but often proper and just. Our people have suffered too long under these lies," said Rev. Dr. Jodi Hayadisha.

Earlier this year, poor people, clergy and advocates traveled to statehouses all over the country and the U.S. Capitol to serve notice on lawmakers of the demand that they address the enmeshed evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and America’s distorted national morality. Lawmakers’ failure to act has spurred this spring’s six weeks of nonviolent moral fusion direct action.

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. 

 Coalitions have formed in 39 states and Washington, D.C. to challenge extremism locally and at the federal level and to demand a moral agenda for the common good. 

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.