Risking Arrest for #UniteThePoor #ILPoorPeoplesCampaign #PoorPeoplesCampaign

You asked me how I decided to risk arrest for the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC).  I have asked myself how I could not risk arrest for the PPC.

Before I was tall enough to see over the pews in worship service, the theological tradition I grew up in, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), planted in me a seed of activism .  Dr. William Barber, who, along with Pastor Liz Theoharris, reinvigorated MLK’s PPC, also grew up in the Disciples tradition. The church taught us:  “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his site.”  I learned to appreciate all religious traditions, even atheism.

I learned about peace, justice and love in church.  The poor are blessed, but the idea of rich people going to heaven is as absurd as a hairy beast passing through the eye of a needle.  When we look to wealth and power over others for satisfaction, we are never satisfied.  Sell your stuff and follow me, said Jesus, who lived as a migrant in strappy sandals and got pissed when rich men used the temple as a bank.

When I read a profile of Barber on Mother’s Day, I wanted to re-connect with the radical Christian tradition I grew up in.  As a (laid-off) professor of Women’s Studies, I have taught intersectionality  for a decade.  I immediately recognized the powerful intersectionality of the PPC. I don’t think any of my students are surprised to see me putting myself on the line–they are probably wondering what took me so long (now that I’m laid off, I have less to lose).  I know how powerful education is–how important it is to study and learn together, but I also know that words are not enough.

And if words are not enough, then the only method I know of to topple regimes and change the world is nonviolent direct action.  In the United States nonviolent direct action has entailed civil disobedience.  So, with the support of the PPC, I put myself at risk of arrest because that is the work of peace and justice.

But it is the PPC, with Barber and Theoharris’s solid moral commitment and leadership, that makes me confident in risking arrest.  I am not alone.  I read Dr. Barber’s memoir, The Third Reconstruction.  When we get together, something powerful can happen.  Even when there is no reasonable expectation of political success, moral dissent is necessary.  When building a movement, we think long-term.

The theological and social motivation for risking arrest are clear, but I have also looked inward.  Am I trying to “get attention?”  (Well, yes– that’s the point.)  Am I trying to prove something about myself?  That I’m worthy of love and acceptance?  Maybe, but getting arrested carries a stigma and it’s humiliating, so if I’m looking for acceptance, I’d be better off engaging in  more socially acceptable activism, like taking on more volunteer work at the food pantry that has been unable to keep up with need.  I’ll keep stocking shelves at the food pantry, but I also want to work towards an economy that does not rely on food pantries!  The PPC envisions an economy by the people and for the people.

I’m hoping to inspire you, my readers.  I would love you to join me in putting yourself on the line for the world we believe in.  Our moral power rests in our willingness to suffer.  When I meditate, I practice tolerating discomfort-because if my hands are locked behind me, I won’t to able to scratch an itch or wipe my nose.  I’m middle-aged, so my shoulders and wrists will probably get stiff and sore.  I imagine having to sit on a hard bench when I’d rather be curled up on the couch with a book.

I have not seen examples of police mistreating activists in the PPC (in fact, Illinois police have stood by as we break the law:  arrests would generate bad publicity for Governor Rauner), but I have seen law enforcement unleash violence on protesters at Standing Rock.  The risks of engaging in nonviolent direct action are real.

When I trained in nonviolent direct action, the leader asked us how we were feeling.  I said nervous, because of the stigma.  The leader responded that she’s been arrested just for being black, just for showing up.  If your skin is black or brown, you can get arrested even when you aren’t committing a crime.  Yesterday, police didn’t arrest our line of light-skinned folks that were very clearly violating traffic laws for over an hour.  As we say in the PPC rallies, “That ain’t right.”

If you risk arrest, you need to be educated first.  If it does’t feel right, support the PPC by  joining the movement or donating.

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Blocking intersection of Monroe and 2nd, at Illinois Capitol

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Did you know light-skinned folks can break the law as the police sit by and watch? The Prisoner transport bus remained empty.

 

 

 

Poor People’s Campaign, Second Action on IL Capitol in Springfield, #UniteThePoor #ILPoorPeoplesCampaign #PoorPeoplesCampaign

I finally found the big green bus from Evanston, where Campaign leaders said it would be, in front of the Lincoln Statue on the Capitol.  When I stepped in, a man in a priest collar and colorful stole greeted me.  His name was Pastor Dan.  I introduced myself and said,

“Pastor Marilyn said I could get on your bus for the lobby info session.”

“Have a  seat.” He smiled.  (He had no idea who I was, but welcomed me without skipping a beat.) I sat next to David, who was in charge of distributing granola bars and muffins.   Pastor Dan looked down the center aisle of the bus.  “Everybody, this is Holly Stovall from Macomb.”

A man named Alex from the Service Employees International Union climbed onto the parked bus to educate us on how to lobby for two pieces of legislation that would alleviate poverty:  one, Fight for $15, which sets the minimum wage at $15, and two, a living wage for home health-care workers.IMG_2930

Above, I’m with Raham Bolaji Potter, another activist.

Pastor Dan introduced me to Cicely Flemming (second to right in photo below), an Evanston City Council Member and activist for equality and social justice.    Cicely gave me some fact sheets on the bills we were lobbying for.img_2866-e1527185327131.jpg Photo insert: my excellent lobby group. Danielle and Brenda (second and third from left) had taken off from work to support the Poor People’s Campaign.

Inside, I found my representative, Norine Hammond, in her office and asked her to vote for the bill to help home healthcare workers.  She wore a boldly-printed blouse and a statement necklace that looked great.  She made a few copies of my fact sheet and asked me if I knew when the bill would come up for a vote.

“I’ll find out,” I said.

“I will, too,” she said.  I have written about her critically in the past, but at that moment, we were two women finding meaning and satisfaction in our work.

Back outside on the steps, Pastor Becky held a wad of yellow mesh vests and looked at me.

“Do you want to be a marshal?”

“Sure.”  I took a vest.  I knew from the previous week’s Poor People’s Campaign action  that marshals guide the procession and support the action.

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Above, Pastor Becky, wearing her marshal vest, with Erica Nanton, one of the Tri-chairs of the Illinois Poor People’s Campaign.  Erica told us to make sure that only folks who had trained specifically for the day’s action sit down and block entrances to the governor’s office and senate chambers.  Everyone else had to remain standing.

In the rotunda, Pastor Dan (wearing black shirt and rainbow stole) warmed up the crowd with a master mix of chants and song.

Members of the Poor People’s Campaign approached the podium to articulate the links between Systemic Racism and Poverty — the suppression of Voting Rights, Unjust Immigration policies and the Fight for a Living Wage.

One of my favorite speakers was this 11 year old girl from Chicago:

The police stopped her father at a traffic stop and deported him. She misses him.  Her mother struggles to support her and her sister.

After an hour of speaking truth to power, we geared up for action.  Moral action requires resolve and solidarity.  In his memoir, The Third Reconstruction, Dr. William Barber says one way to fortify moral action is through song:

Erica, by the way, has a great voice.

Activists prepared for arrest by wearing red armbands.

img_2954.jpgI saw red armbands on these two brave young women, Bequina and Ashley (above) and asked them if they were nervous about engaging in civil disobedience and being arrested.  “No.”  They smiled for a photo as they prepared to ascend the grand staircase to Rauner’s office.

Ashley said, “Let me see the picture.”

I showed it to them and they approved.  (I love their smiles because they remind me of my Women’s Studies students at Western Illinois University.)

img_2974.jpgUpstairs, struggling McDonald’s workers sat down in front of the entrance to Governor Rauner’s office. Note the arms raised with red armbands, indicating they have trained in civil disobedience. They chanted and sang for  living wage.  Last year, the Illinois legislature passed the $15 minimum wage, but Governor Rauner vetoed it.

A featured singer dried her tears, then finished:  “We shall not be moved”–morally that is, because we did move, to the entrance to the senate gallery (below) for an hour of sit-in and chants.

img_2987.jpg    A person named Blue, standing in a black t-shirt in front of the law enforcement, led chants for an hour.  Protesters found the sit-in challenging.  The floor was hard, they were crowded, the noise level was high, and many had suffered from aching knees and butts.  Even in the blast of air conditioning, folks were sweating.

Meanwhile, I checked my little slider phone and saw that my son had called from home.  Had Grandma forgot to pick him up from school? I called the house, but no one answered.  Wondering how long before the arrests would start, I began pacing.  What if someone at home needed me for something?  I was descending the grand staircase when I saw a row of police move from Rauner’s entrance to the elevator.  I returned to the action.

That’s when I saw what democracy looks like:

Hey, Fight for Fifteen and Illinois Poor People Campaign, congratulations on your successful action and hard work!

 

Nothin to Lose but my Chains: Poor People’s Campaign in Springfield

On Mother’s Day I went to bed early and read a magazine article that felt life changing. The Reverend William Barber, along with Liz Theoharris, has reignited Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign.  Barber is a minister trained in the tradition I grew up in, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). (The Disciples church in Macomb sits across from the Police Station.)

Barber’s theology fuels his tireless efforts to address poverty, and he has inspired folks all over the country—rural, urban, north, south, black, white, male, female—to join the Poor People’s Campaign.

Since I was laid off from my tenured professor position in Women’s Studies last year, I’ve struggled with insecurity and self-doubt, but after learning about Barber, I felt certain that I would walk with the Poor People’s Campaign. OPPC

I woke up early Monday morning, searched the web, and found that the first event of a 40-day campaign for moral revival was set to begin that afternoon in dozens of state capitols across the country. The theme of the week is one I’d taught in my Women Studies classes for more than a decade:  “Somebody’s Hurting Our People: Children, Women and People with Disabilities Living in Poverty.”

Even with the two-lane roads and the occasional monster tractor ahead, I could get to Springfield in an hour and a half. New-Banner Outside of Beardstown, IL, I passed a billboard: “Elect John Curtis.” John has walked my congressional district door to door and he’s seen for himself the extensive poverty (nearly one third of the people) that plagues McDonough County.  Though Curtis is a politician, not an activist, his walk through the poverty of our district reminds me that King did the same—choosing to begin his Poor People’s Campaign by marching out of Marks, Alabama, the most destitute town in the country.

IMG_2765                               In Springfield, the Lincoln Statue was hot and sleepy.

img_2744.jpgThe steps around the statue were empty, but I began to hear voices singing and tambourines ringing—and then a procession of marchers emerged from behind the capitol.

img_2746.jpgSinging in a minor key: “We are a new unsettling force for liberation and we’ve got nothing to lose but our chains.”

IMG_2785We gathered around the Lincoln statue, and Jade Mazon (purple shirt) told the crowd that poverty and PTSD from domestic assault have erected obstacles to her role as mother of Kiki, an honors student who stood by her side. Jade works two jobs and two “hustles,” (informal work). From Mazon’s perspective, Kiki’s school tends to punish Mazon for being poor and disabled with PTSD.  Our society has made parenting while poor a crime.

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A close-up with Jade Mazon and her daughter Kiki. Jade is a mother struggling to raise her daughter, and the the speech she delivered was as clear and compelling as anything I’ve ever assigned in a Women’s Studies textbook. Jade and Kiki wore purple t-shirts that read “Rebel Bells,” a mother-daughter group the fights the storage and emissions of neuro- and lung toxins on Chicago’s Southeast side.

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Poverty and toxic air and water are rural problems, as well as urban.  The Illinois Poverty Report ranks McDonough County as approaching a 30 percent poverty rate—one of the worst in the state.  One report ranked air quality around Macomb’s Elementary school very low. In addition, neuro toxins from agricultural fertilizers and other sources may poison drinking water in rural areas, such as McDonough County, IL.

Poverty and environmental destruction are UNIFYING factors because they affect every racial/ethnic category:  for example, most poor people are white and many LGBTQ folks are poor. And everyone needs clean air and water.

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The War against the poor is immoral.

After speaking truth to power, we moved . . .

img_2794.jpgEvent leaders told us to march in twos, which we didn’t quite pull off.

 

 

Keeping the mood positive.  All but the red arm-banded will move to the sidewalk corners.

IMG_2835At the intersection of Monroe and 2nd St, three white women, three white men, and one woman of color, all wearing red armbands they had earned in civil disobedience training, stopped in the box and linked hands.

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Most of us kept to the sidewalk corners. To encourage and support those who were risking arrest, Rev. Saeed Richardson led chants:  “We love you.”

A 93-degree sun beat down on the red-arm-banded protesters in the middle of the intersection.  Nearly a dozen police vehicles surrounded us.

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“Prisoner Transport,” arrived last.

 

 

Police trained to address civil disobedience talked to protesters, escorted each one to the sidewalk, and ticketed them. The two women above graciously took selfies with me after coming off the protest line to wait for their tickets.  (Ticketing the poor??? Doesn’t solve much, but raises public funds, at least).

Afterwards, one of the ticketed protesters sat on the curb in the shade.  She was a woman who didn’t look that different from the white women who’ve recently made the news for calling police on black folks for engaging in completely appropriate activities.

She smiled, her face sweaty.

“How are you feeling?” I asked.

“Hot, but I’m from Southern Illinois, near St. Louis, where white people hardly ever get arrested for petty crimes.  I wanted to take my turn, take a stand.”

“Thank you for putting yourself out there,” I said.

“I’ll be glad to see my kids tonight,” she said.

I went home and signed up for a civil disobedience training webinar.

I’ll return to Springfield each Monday in May to campaign with the poor people.

 

 

Note:  even the police officer, left, can’t resist jamming a little, smiling, and taking video.

 

 

 

Thank You for Re-carding your UPI membership

Dear Colleagues,

I want to thank you, my colleagues, who have re-carded your membership with the University Professionals of Illinois, Local 4100. In light of attacks from the SCOTUS, the Koch brothers, Governor Bruce Rauner, and our own administration, I feel an urgency to articulate my gratitude to UPI leaders and members.

The best explanation for re-carding I’ve seen comes from the Chicago Teachers Unions:

To proactively fight this expected decision . .  . reaffirm your membership and support for the union. We need to demonstrate our solidarity and our determination to stand united as a union.  We owe it to our students and ourselves to make this happen. Without a union, educators are relegated to lower pay, longer hours, and worse conditions for students.

Like in the Chicago Public Schools, the best way for public universities to provide high quality education to students is to keep education resources in actual education, meaning in the classroom (not management), meaning adminsitrators must pay faculty and professionals fairly and provide us with working conditions that are both psychologically and physically healthy.

Dear colleagues, I once had a heated debate with one of you, a sturdy southerner.  We were eating tortilla chips with cheese dip. When you said that scientists are always objective, I told you not to deceive yourself.  Your eyes narrowed—it was clear that we would not reach an agreement on the common belief that scientists are more objective than literary scholars.  But last week, when we crossed paths at a recent UPI event, we greeted each other happily.  One thing we agree on—we value our union and the importance of re-carding.

What I like most about my fellow union members is that you care about Western Illinois University and the region.  Many of you, I know, wrestle with the way you will vote on UPI questions, and you consider many factors beyond yourself.  After careful consideration last month, one of you decided to vote to authorize a strike, went to bed, woke up, and changed your mind, but you made your voice heard, you accepted that most of your colleagues voted for strike authorization, and you re-carded. Your willingness to cast a vote of dissent, and then support the union when things don’t go your way, impresses me. What we agree on is this: if the UPI doesn’t stand up for professors and professionals, no one will. I hope the next WIU administration understands that to support faculty, they will have to support the UPI.

I value my union because I love teaching and learning.  The UPI fights to keep resources in the classroom.  Paying professors fairly is the best way to value education.  When the UPI gives up pay, the administration directs those funds to expensive attorneys who don’t know our students and are not invested in our classrooms. Or they give a generous “promotion” (raise) to someone in Sherman Hall, where there are no classrooms.

If you believe, as I do, that education is a social good, that we are preparing students to be engaged citizens, that we will help them get jobs and avoid poverty (and please remember that a woman needs a college degree to earn the same as a man with only a high school education), then we have to fight to keep university resources in the classroom. That means we must all re-card now, before the Supreme Court announces the Janus decision.

For me, the UPI’s most important impact, after education, is social justice.  My union fights for a broad vision of justice.  Some folks assume that the UPI is just a group of middle-class professionals bargaining for a raise, but that is not an accurate picture.  (For one, we’re not even bargaining for a raise.)  Because wages do not keep up with inflation, while our health insurance premiums and bills are increasing, some WIU professors cannot pay basic bills each month.  In our house, we struggle to pay bills on one full-professor income.  We don’t have Netflix, cable, or cell phone plans.  Our cars are old and in need of repair.  We don’t eat out.  I get angry, ashamed, and depressed when a check bounces.  The women at the check-out are always kind when my debit card is rejected. Many of my colleagues struggle much more than we do.  Social Justice requires that professors and professionals have a salary that can support a family.  The UPI is the only organization fighting for our families.

The UPI takes a stand for free speech, which is necessary for social justice, as well as teaching and learning. When I angered the administration by speaking with the Chronicle twice, and then blogging about how sexist WIU’s administration is, the UPI could have told me that it would be easier to defend me if I weren’t so publicly critical. They didn’t–instead, they supported my academic freedoms and rights to free speech.

We know from historical and economic research that unions stabilize economies and prevent the widening of the gap between rich and poor.  This means that when you re-card, you are supporting the local economy.

I know from my experience of studying with Polly Radosh, a feminist activist academic, that the union has worked hard to close the gender wage gap, which is an important social justice issue. When you re-card, you are supporting fair pay for women.

Union activism and bargaining may be the most effective way to prevent neo-liberals million- and billionaires from draining resources from the public classroom and sanitizing curriculum. Wealthy conservative extremists are leading a national movement to reduce our public universities into training and instructional institutions (See Starving the Beast).  They attack the humanities, which are, historically, the very core of university degrees.  The union is a check on the senseless wealth of neo-liberal billionaires like the Koch brothers and their fellow ideologues, such as Governor Bruce Rauner and Mike Pence.

The UPI functions at its best when listening to members and engaging in difficult conversations. If I have a concern, I let UPI president Bill Thompson know and we talk through it.  After two grievances, two arbitrations, and two-plus years being laid off, I wish the UPI had won back my reinstatement already. Things have not gone exactly my way, but I support the union, as does my husband, who has already re-carded.  Though the UPI leadership always listens, they cannot please everyone at once.  When you re-card, you have a voice.

Union members know that we must balance individual concerns with the good of the whole.  A WIU administrator recently called this concern for the whole group a form of “Kool-aid drinking.”  What he calls “Kool-aid,” I call a broad vision of justice that looks beyond one’s individual wants and needs.  The UPI should be proud of our willingness to defend what is true and good beyond the individual.  President Goldfarb and other previous administrations understood the value of unions.  They didn’t accuse us of drinking “the Kool-aid.”

Thank you for recarding.  Thank you for supporting our union. Thank you for taking a stand for your own ability to pay bills and, if you choose, support a family.  Thank you for setting up yourself, and your position, for a solid defense should you find yourself laid off this month.  Thank you for contributing to the organization that fights for the classroom, our students, our families and the community.

Warmest Regards,

Holly