The Poor People’s Campaign, Week 4: The Right to Health and a Healthy Planet

When we get arrested, we do it to arrest the consciousness of the state and to guarantee that what we are doing will not be done in the dark.   Rev. William Barber II, quoted in Jaffe, p. 164.

I arrived too late to train for the day’s nonviolent direct action with the Poor People’s action in the Springfield yesterday.  Instead, I was privileged to serve as a moral witness.

After rallying on the capitol, we img_1986.jpg delivered a letter to the chief of Healthcare and Family Services.  In the letter, we demanded healthcare for all.  We sang, chanted and perplexed the offices worker. When the police said they weren’t going to arrest our designated agents of nonviolent direct action, our agents sat down and linked arms, blocking the entrance.

Finally, an officer said our agents were creating a fire hazard.  Tactfully, a police officer warned our agents that they were committing a crime and would be arrested.  Our agents for moral reform did not move.


When the time came for arrests, our agents rose for their handcuffs.  Pastor Betty , wearing a stole, stood first.  As Pastor Betty was arrested, a police officer said there were better ways to accomplish our goals than arrest.  What are we to make of the fact that a police officer lectures the clergy (a woman trained to preach from sacred texts) in front of moral witnesses?  How can he lecture so confidently in his disregard for civil disobedience? Does his lecture indicate cynicism towards  the more perfect union the drafters of the constitutional wrote about?

On the drive home, my daughter Maya, who recently read Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail for 11th grade English,  said,

“If he doesn’t think civil disobedience is effective in creating a more perfect union, what does he think is? War?”

“It would be civil war, and our own government is already stocking local national guard and law enforcement with war weapons.”   I said this because of what I have seen at Standing Rock and because of the machine weapons I’ve seen police hold at entrances to stadium concerts.

“So, as an alternative to the violence of civil war, I’d say civil disobedience is a preferred solution.”

Maya said, “Does he  consider the fact that poor people can’t afford to hire lobbyists or donate to PACS?”

“What disturbed the historian in me,” I said, “is that he disregarded the fact that our constitution guaranteed women’s right to vote only after 500 women were arrested for engaging in nonviolent direct action in front of the White House in 1919.  Lobbying and campaigning weren’t enough.”

IFascism relies on ignorance. Fascism relies on most people not knowing that Alice Paul and Martin Luther King took arrest so that this country could be a more perfect union.

“And Jim Crow.  The officer doesn’t seem to appreciate the fact that civil disobedience overturned laws that prevented black people from voting or learning in adequate schools.”

The PPC is reclaiming the moral language of the constitution and of  sacred texts.  The PPC draws attention to a decaying economy that is not by the people nor for the people. During the arrests, the police officer said he had better things to do with his time.  I wonder what is better use of anyone’s time than placing oneself on the line to draw attention to the moral decay of our union. How do we establish a more perfect union if, by one measure, 40 percent of our families can’t pay basic bills?  If  we don’t have clean water to drink? Clean air to breathe?

If not for civil disobedience, the votes of the vast majority of the people in this country–women of color, men of color, white women, the poor and immigrants– would be even more suppressed than they are today.

For a moral account of poverty, violence, and ecological devastation, supported with facts and data, please read the the PPC’s  MORAL AGENDA BASED ON FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS.


Speaking truth to power


Photo of Pastor Betty taken around 4 pm. All 14 agents of nonviolent direct action were released by 9:30 pm.