Rural Illinois Poverty in the National Press

I’m so pleased to publish my article about the Poor People’s Campaign and the impoverishment of  Western Illinois in the digital version of the national magazine, In These Times.  This is my first national op. ed. since Western Illinois University terminated my contract over a year ago, and I’m happy to have found other satisfying work (that, I hope, will pay at some point).

But more than personal satisfaction, what I want is that we work together, rural and urban, rich and poor, black and white, etc., to protect geographic diversity in the MidWest and to create a kind and just economy for everyone.


Banner from website

Stronger Together Through Personally Supporting WIU’s Fired Faculty

The best things you can say to and do for someone who is fired from Western Illinios University are

  1.  How are you? This sounds simple, but you must stop everything you are doing, stand still, and hold their eyes, and say it more slowly than usual.
  2.   I support you and I will join in to fight to restore you to your rightful position at WIU.  This can mean supporting the union, but it will probably mean volunteering countless hours to getting out the vote for the John Curtis Campaign, as well as for JB Pritzker.  Most importantly, the fight to restore WIU means we must unite and support each other’s disciplines and programs.
  3. Ask the person who was fired to tell you her or his WIU story.  This might be painful and scary because you will hear how dedicated they were over decades, and fear about your own job may rise up, but listen and stay with the story.
  4. Tell them that what they are going through must be so hard and awful.  Understand that the fired faculty’s identity as a teacher and academic is deep and dear.  Teaching, especially in the Liberal Arts and Sciences, is a calling, a vocation, almost religious in nature.  We feel a great deal of satisfaction and contentment about giving students knowledge and tools that no one can ever take away from them.  Firing faculty is a blow to the soul.

Some things that people did or said to me that didn’t help:

  1.  Suggesting I move on before my grievance, arbitration, and appeal process is over.
  2. Minimizing the impact of the firing.
  3. Inventing a narrative about my rank and seniority:  Oh, you were the junior person in your department. (Not true.), or Oh, you weren’t here that long. I was here 12 years when my contract was terminated.  When I was laid off, there were 200 or 300 faculty with less rank and seniority than I had. To justify targeting the heart of the university (tenured professors and others who’ve served this institution for decades), WIU said they had to “realign” staff.  That ain’t right.  Realignment is for tires–not human beings.  We reject an administration that treats us like objects.

On firing tenured faculty:

Most of us in the Liberal Arts and Sciences pursue PhDs because we find enrichment and personal growth in the rigor of academics–not because we believe our degrees entitle us to a better life than other hard-working folks.  Tenure exists–and must exist–to protect academic freedoms, and that’s important, but everybody deserves a good and stable income with health care.  Everyone deserves income stability.

They can take my job, but they can’t take my PhD or my decades of experience.  Since being laid off, I have explored ways to re-invent myself, and in that exploration, my degrees and experience are invaluable.  I am thankful for them. However, after a year, I have yet to succeed in re-inventing myself, and honestly, employers aren’t that interested in middle-aged women who’ve “re-invented” themselves.

I am a teacher, and I will fight to see my rightful position at WIU restored. I will fight for yours, as well.  We will fight together.


Radical Hope after hearing that “We’re so sorry to vote to lay you off.”

I cried before the Western Illinois University Board of Trustees meeting today.

I witnessed trustees apologize and lament their vote to eliminate positions in the Liberal Arts and Sciences.  24 faculty and 2 professionals (not administrators) will be laid off.  Seven of them are tenured.  When I heard this, I said F***.  I said it audibly, and within  hearing distance of some low-level administrators who don’t have to worry about their jobs.  You can say what you want about civility, but I’m going to err on the side of maintaining my capacity for shock.  I don’t want to see the layoffs of tenured faculty normalized like the leaking roofs at WIU.

However we respond and react, it’s not going to be perfect, and so in my imperfection, I’m going to err on the side of outrage.  I grew up in a Christian tradition (Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)), and it was never lost on us that Jesus did not always conduct himself in a way that could be called “civil.”  At least I didn’t push any tables over this morning.

I left the board meeting and cried.  I cried for my dear friends who will get a letter tomorrow, and I cried for my own lay off that I’ve not recovered from, not even after two years.  (And please don’t tell me to “move on,” because my appeal is still in process and my dead loved ones are memorialized at WIU and I’m an alumnae (-a, -i–? so much for my year of Latin)).

After two years, though, I perceive a shift, and it’s in the power of the people and in a change of heart–probably my own heart.  Once you’re laid off, you’re not as afraid.  After years of grieving, I am able to connect with others and be supportive.  These connections give me hope.  Janus, by the way, could weaken us, but it might also empower us to love and support each other more.

Plus, JB Pritzker, who’s coming to Macomb tonight, is probably about to defeat Bruce Rauner.  He’s going to have a lot of damage to repair at WIU and our other universities, but if anyone can protect tenured faculty at WIU, it’s Pritzker.


Time for Revolution: After 40 Days of Moral Revival, a Call to Action from the U.S. Capitol

I found the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Chicago office on Halsted, in the Pilsner neighborhood of Chicago.  State Representative Litesa Wallace (below), from Rockford, IL,  came to wish us well before we boarded the overnight bus.   In her wok in the state legislature, she created the House is the Economic Justice and Equity committee.


I loved being on a bus full of people with whom I share the values of the Poor People’s Campaign.  We understand the various ways most  people are vulnerable to our economic system of extreme wealth and fear, prejudice and discrimination.

While waiting for the bus, I chatted with these follow activists:img_0102.jpg

Above:  Darryl Robinson, Ron “Kowboy” Jackson, and Curtis, who braved arrest a at a PPC action in Springfield a few weeks ago.  I asked Kowboy what makes him endure the discomfort of two nights on a bus for the Poor People’s Campaign.  “I’ve seen so much suffering,” he said.  In 1988 he put children on stretchers after a shooting at Winnetka Elementary.  Years later, after a car accident, doctors told him he would never walk again, but he does walk.  He walks for the poor and depressed, for society’s most vulnerable, for veterans, and victims of police brutality.

After a night of sleeping while sitting up, we arrived in D.C. Saturday morning, and the SEIU received us with hot breakfast.


While we ate, the 83-year-old Louise Brown (below, wearing bright blue and orange) told us her hospital strike story.


If Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the queen of justice by written opinion, Louise Brown is the queen of justice by action.  In the 60s, Mrs. Brown and ten other women striked for living wages, fair treatment, and the right to unionize.  They went to jail.  Today, Mrs. Brown goes to jail in order to illuminate the widespread and extreme poverty that this country has normalized and ignored.

On the Capitol Mall, for three hours, we rallied, listened to the voices of the poor people, and danced. Folks came from 40 states.  Danny Glover sang.


I loved it that Rev. Barber said:     This is not a rally—it’s a REVOLUTION.

I love Rev. Barber’s discipline.  He privileges the voices of the poor and limits the voices of allies in privileged positions.  If we really want to learn and understand, we will listen to the poor.


Barber’s co-leader, Liz Theoharris (below), arms herself with facts.  She makes it impossible to logically accept the myths about poverty– myths that only lazy people are poor and there’s nothing to be done.  In fact, working people are poor, and there is something to be done. There is, she says, ENOUGH housing, food, and healthcare for all.


Elija Blu, a voice of the Illinois PPC, stands to the left of Theoharris. I recently heard Elija tell a crowd that he comes from a long line of “irrespectability.”  He used to belong to a gang.  He works full-time now, but is still poor.  But he, with the 43% of US inhabitants who are poor, has a right to shelter, nourishment, and health.

A highlight of the day was the “roll call,” in which representatives from forty states shouted the name of their state.  Here’s a sample:

I love that the PPC demands the ENTIRE REVOLUTION.  Everyone is important–no one left behind.  We do not privilege one form of discrimination or vulnerability above others.  If one person is hurting, we are all hurting.  The PPC includes black immigrant rights.


Seala Matthis, from Virgin Islands (which has not recovered from Hurricane Maria) wore a shirt that says, “Immigrants Make America Great.”


After a three-hour rally,  we marched to the Capitol.


The PPC is not afraid to quote from a variety of sacred texts and other moral documents that nations and countries hold dear, such as preambles to state and federal constitutions.  These texts say that every human life is dear and that we must take care of each other.  We must take care of the people who are most vulnerable, which usually means, take care of the poor and the immigrants.

After the march, I went in the National Gallery East and found works by two African American women:

Pansies in Washington, by Alma Thomas

Dat Ol’ Black Magic, by Betye Saar



Restoring The Moral Narrative: Poor People’s Campaign, Week 6 of 40-day Campaign for Moral Revival

Interfaith prayer and a band enlivened the 6th Monday of the Poor People´s Campaign for Moral Revival this week –in Chicago, not Springfield.

Cub fans were lining up outside Wrigley field, but my husband and daughter joined me for Poor People´s Choir practice in the Poeple´s Church on the North Side.

Rehearsal for the evening’s finale: “Ain´t gonna let nobody turn me around.¨ Most of the choir had come from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

After choir rehearsal, we walked a few blocks to Lake Shore drive, to catch the end of the last Illinois rally of the 40-day campaign and join the march to the People’s Church for speakers and music.

For the purposed of this blog, “interfaith” includes atheists with faith in humanity, as well as people from various religions.

Once back in the People’s Church, my daughter, husband, and I stood on stage with the choir and sang Somebody’s hurting my people and it been going on far too long.

Reverend Saeed Richardson asked who was in the house. “Tent City,” someone shouted. The percussionist rolled the drums and the keyboardist hit a chord. The crowed cheered. “Who else is in the house tonight?” Asked Rev. Richardson.

Fight for 15


National Nurses United


Senior Caucus

35th Ward

Progressive Labor Party

Inner Voice

United Methodist Church

Coalition for the Homeless

Unitarian Universalists

March for our Lives, Chicago

Organized Communities against Deportation

After each of these groups announced themselves, we celebrated with drum role and keyboard chords.

Rev. Saeed called on us to rectify the country’s distorted moral narrative. By moral, he means the values that sacred texts, and even government documents, call us to hold dear.

One of the rabbis encouraged us to follow the paths of the prophets, which is what the PPC does–it calls us to develop systems of love and support the most vulnerable of our society, including immigrants and the environment.

A cantor from a congregation in Deerfield sang, We must love each other. We will fill this world with love. Singing gently with folks from different religions, race, and genders, made me believe the words. I recalled singing such songs at church camp, but with people who looked and talked like me. To sing it with the homeless, the queer, the sex worker, the former gang member, the sick, the rabbis, the pastors, and the musicians made my eyes begin to tear-up. The lessons of my childhood as a preacher’s daughter in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a tradition that, for decades, I had left behind, returned.

The Poor People’s Campaign unites the most socially-committed of Christianity, as well as of Islam, Judaism, atheism, Unitarian Universalism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hindus and infinite moral or religious traditions. Even readers of the United States constitution will find a moral call for domestic tranquility and, for each person, a right to the pursuit of happiness. The preamble to the Illinois constitution specifically mentions the moral responsibility of the state to alleviate poverty.

A Rabbi speaking to the Poor People’s Campaign said that broken systems break people.

Jade Mazon, whom I met at the first Monday of the PPC, and who will stand and speak with Rev. Barber on the national mall this Saturday, June 23, said poverty is generational for her. Jade said that her daughter’s school says she’s not a good enough mom and threatens her with community service (though Jade already generously donates her time to the PPC and the Rebel Bells) but The crowed broke out in applause when Jade announced that Kiki won the class honor of most improved and highest standardized test score. From the second row, Kiki beamed with hard-earned pride for herself and her mom.

Pilar Rodriguez, member of a Unitarian Universalism social justice group, said that he is a queer person who presents (not identifies) as a woman. He feels unsafe walking at night in his neighborhood. In his apartment, they repair things with duck tape because they can’t even afford milk. Pilar told the crowd that if anyone needed a place to stay, they were welcome to stay with him. The crowd cheered in support of his generosity.

Rami Nashashiri, director of Inner-city Muslim Action Network, said we have a moral responsibility to address the systems that are broken–that charity is insufficient. He recalled the Salvadoran bishop who said that “When I fed the poor, they called me a saint, but when I asked why they were hungry, they called me a communist.”

Mentioning slavery and ICE’s kidnapping of immigrant children, Nashashiri said that the brokenness, even the U.S. government’s cold and cruel streak and the immorality running through the country, is not new. WHAT IS NEW, he said, is our coming together in the Poor People’s Campaign.

We are restoring the moral narrative.

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.




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.


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.


Blocking intersection of Monroe and 2nd, at Illinois Capitol


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.