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.
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. 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.
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.
I 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.)
Upstairs, 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.
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!