Tents in front of the Governor’s Mansion: Symbolic creativity for Week 5 of Poor People’s Campaign

On the fifth Monday of the Illinois Poor Peoples Campaign on the capitol, the media came to record activists speaking next to tents in front of the Governor’s mansion.

Erica Nanten, Joyce Brody and Reverend Saeed Richardson directed the action, which began with a march  from the the Capitol strip to the Governor’s Mansion.


Just Seeds, a cooperative of socially engaged artists, printed signs and banners for the Poor People’s Campaign.


Week 5 was the most creative action of the campaign so far.  My favorite banner:IMG_3121

In a creative and symbolic move, the campaign set up tents at the entrance to the governor’s mansion (below).  When you set up tents on crumbling concrete next to a mansion, the contrast of  hyper-wealth for the minority, next to extreme poverty for majority, is shocking. It’s the American nightmare.


The governor’s mansion sits behind tents and campaign activists.  The woman with the red headband is Takesha Williams.  Takesha said that a 15$ minimum wage is only a step.  She has big dreams, but our politicians make it hard for her to realize them.

We’re always ready for a chant:

(The people, united, will never be defeated.)

Reverend Saeed Richardson (below, center) said people are going through hell, and when you’re going through hell, (quoting Martin Luther King), don’t Stop.  Keep going.IMG_3116


Rev. Saeed always has his hands full, so he pins a sign to his back. Left, Mabel Willams, with her speaking notes.

Aiesha Meadows, a fast-food worker and member of Fight for $15, said that when Rauner vetoed the 15 dollar minimum wage, “he stole from us.”  The crowd hear her and said, “That ain’t right.”  Importantly, Aiesha repeated that she and her co-workers want a union.  Every time she said “union,” she smiled.  

The crowd chanted, 

“Rauner vetoed 15. 

Veto Rauner ’18.”

Mabel Williams (In black and white striped top, above, next to Reverend Saeed) works 40 hours a week, and is still poor.  “I clean hospital rooms,” she said.  The new patient’s health depends on my diligence in eliminating viruses and bacteria, so my work is very important, but I can’t pay all my bills.

Erica faced Rauner’s mansion and spoke to him about how it feels to lose your home and job:


Erica initiated the musicology.  “We sing,” said Erica, “to make sure folks know we are human beings.”

In front of the governor’s mansion, Erica taught us a song:

I went down to the rich man’s house (substitute governor’s mansion, immigration, etc. at end of each each verse)

I took back what he stole from me,

took back my dignity,

took my humanity:

Erica introduced Rosie, the featured musicologist (video below).

Hay cadenas que romper (There are chains to break)

Hay victorias que obtener (There are victories to make):

I was the only one who spoke about education and jobs in rural Illinois.   I am laid off and my students don’t have a teacher to teach Hispanic Women and Women and Creativity.  In McDonough County, both the poverty and depopulation rate are climbing.  Also, like Chicago, Macomb schools face sexual assault charges that might have been prevented if we had had adequate funding for sexual assault prevention programs.


A concluding photo with Fight for 15 holding the banner.

When most campaigners hopped on the buses to Chicago, Maya and returned to the sleepy Capitol building and took the Grand Stair Case to the third floor for an “us-y::


After an eating salads and chili at Obed and Isaak’s, we began the hour-and-a-half drive, through the long rows of industrial corn, back to Macomb.