Poor People’s Campaign Culminates 40 Days of Action in DC

Activists gathered from across the US in Washington DC to cap off 40 days of action for the Poor People’s Campaign. TRNN’s Eddie Conway reports from the rally and from labor protest at George Washington University

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Story Transcript

EDDIE CONWAY: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Eddie Conway, coming to you from Washington, D.C. on the National Mall. This is the Poor People’s Campaign national organization protest and rally in front of the capital.

So why are you here? How long have you been working with this campaign?

KEVIN BURRELL: Well, I heard this campaign through a good friend of mine, and my church, Market Square Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg, asked for people to-, my pastor, one of my pastors asked for volunteers to help with a work, with supporting the work in Harrisburg. And I heard about a bus trip, and I wanted to participate. It’s important to me to find a way to bridge the gap between people of color who are poor and people who are not of color who are also poor. I feel our country, there are forces in our country right now that are pitting those groups against each other, and it’s foolish and crazy. Poor is poor.

DARREN JOYCE: I’m supporting this Poor People’s Campaign because I’m one of the, one of the masses. Of the poor.

EDDIE CONWAY: OK, you’re one of the poor people. What part of Florida are you from?

DARREN JOYCE: Central Cocoa Beach, Cape Canaveral.

EDDIE CONWAY: Yes. All right. So what do you think, so far what do you think of the gathering here? It looks like there’s a couple thousand people so far. What do you think?

DARREN JOYCE: I think it looks pretty good. You’ve got to organize. This is the first one I’ve been to. I’m not out in the city. I thought I’d just come and support it.

EDDIE CONWAY: OK, so you haven’t been involved back in Florida in this campaign as they were building it? OK. Are you aware that 50 years ago, Martin Luther King tried to do that same thing here?

DARREN JOYCE: No, sir, I’m not. Fifty years ago I probably was three.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR: America freed the slaves in 19-, I mean 1863, through the Emancipation Proclamation of Abraham Lincoln, but gave the slaves no land, nothing, in reality, as a matter of fact, to get started on.

EDDIE CONWAY: Are there poor people in Massachusetts? I think of Boston, and the Kennedys, and et cetera. Are there poor people in Massachusetts, also?

ROSEMARY KEAN: Yes. You know, the housing is probably the thing that’s making people poor at the fastest rate right now. We have investors coming and buying up the housing stock that used to be for working people, two families, three families, are being snatched up. And new housing is all luxury condos.

EDDIE CONWAY: So it’s gentrification.

ROSEMARY KEAN: Yes, oh yeah. Very much so. On steroids.

EDDIE CONWAY: I’m here with Danny Glover. Danny, why are you here?

DANNY GLOVER: I’m here for this extraordinary revival, moral revival, around poor people. It becomes clearer and clearer that even poor people and the working poor, workers themselves are under siege in this country right here, and ordinary citizens, ordinary citizens under siege. And we’ve got to stand up right now. It has to be a sustainable movement. It has to be continuous movement. And it is for justice, and reviving, saving the soul of this country. This is what this is about.

DEREK GARDNER: I’m here to say that the war economy is immoral, deeply. We are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, and yet we are pouring 53 percent of our discretionary income into death and destruction, the preservation of empire. And only 15 percent of our spending goes to preserving the social safety net, what little lasts. This is deeply, deeply appalling. And I’m here because I don’t want my taxes going to prop this up. And by the way, I would be here no matter who is president, Democrat or Republican. They all answer to the same interests.

CLAUDIA DE LA CRUZ: The campaign is being built from the bottom up, which means from the states to the national platform. We have in our principles that is a nonpartisan campaign. Which means that we are not here to funnel people into the Democratic Party or into the Republican Party, but we are here to come back and fight against the systematic issues that are, that are oppressing and exploiting our people today.. And what happens after this launch, what happens after these 40 days, is something that the states will need to be able to resolve, and it’s something that will hopefully be announced in the fall. I think that now that we have completed the 40 days, folks are being called to reconvene and be in conversation in their states, coordinating what may be people’s assemblies to be in conversation about what’s next in the different states, and get to a space where nationally we can have conversations about what agenda that we are pushing together.

YAHNAE BARNER: 1199 SEIU, we represent healthcare workers in D.C. and in Maryland. And so in the District of Columbia we’re currently in a contract fight with the George Washington University Hospital. We’ve been negotiating, in negotiations with them for over a year now, and management just refuses to negotiate in good faith. They’re intimidating the workers inside and outside of the facility.

RADAY STREET: I’m a cook at George Washington University Hospital, and I’m a marshal for this upcoming rally.

EDDIE CONWAY: OK. Now, it’s my understanding that they are refusing to sign the contract for the union people. We’ve been in negotiation over a year and a half. And there’s no reason why, you know, the contract shouldn’t be signed. Or, yeah, there’s no reason why our contracts shouldn’t be signed.

EDDIE CONWAY: Well, what are, what are their issues? What are they pushing back against?

RADAY STREET: Retro Pay. I was told by one of my shop stewards that we were getting shorted in pay from the time we were hired. Benefits. You know, there have been different OSHA violations. So just, you know, just some, you know, management issues. So just overall, just, you know, everything needs to be overhauled, and you know, they just need to do the right thing.

EDDIE CONWAY: Is there a concern of the union workers that if they take a position, if they protest, that George Washington University Hospital administration might do, take some kind of action against them?

RADAY STREET: I believe so. I really think that it’s a lot of my co-workers who are, I guess, afraid to speak up due to, you know, some type of action from management. But that shouldn’t be the case, because we’re in a union, and they have to follow certain bylaws. And if they don’t follow certain bylaws, it’s going to be an issue. So they shouldn’t be scared to speak up, and that’s one of the main reason why I’m here, to provide a voice for me and my co-workers, and other workers at the hospital.

EDDIE CONWAY: These are workers. Why do you think they should be part of the Poor People’s Campaign? Who are these workers?

YAHNAE BARNER: So, we represent housekeeping and dietary workers at George Washington University Hospital. And so one of the kind of components of the Poor People’s Campaign is about dignity, is about respect. It is about, you know, a livable wage. And so the fact that we’ve been negotiating a contract with the George Washington University Hospital for over a year, that means that the workers there haven’t received a raise and 2017, and now in 2018. In addition to that, you have director of housekeeping saying things to workers. You know, we’ve heard things like they have to call before using the restroom. So you have adults having to call another adult to say, I have to use the restroom. Those type of things, you know, break someone down, is breaking down your dignity and respect.

RADAY STREET: I like my job. I don’t have an issue my job. I just want to be treated fairly. And I just want, you know, it’s very expensive to live in D.C. It’s very expensive, and nobody that works in a hospital should be living paycheck to paycheck. George Washington University Hospital has the means to provide us with quality pay and benefits so we can live comfortably. We’re not asking for a lot. We’re asking for the bare minimum. That’s all we want.