‘Poor People’ rally for minimum wage
“Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”
More than 50 people of various ages and races – many wearing red t-shirts with large white letters reading “Fight for $15” – made their way along Fifth Street at 2 p.m. Monday, June 11. The mood was upbeat, with time being kept by marching band drums and signs in the air carrying messages such as “End the War Economy,” “Fight Poverty, Not the Poor” and the blunt “Veto Rauner 2018.” The marchers soon gathered in front of the Governor’s Mansion, which is still undergoing major renovations. A line of small tents was set up on the sidewalk in front of the mansion to draw attention to the disparity between how the governor lives versus his poorest constituents.
This was the Illinois Poor People’s Campaign, self-described in press materials as “the most expansive wave of nonviolent direct action and rallies in U.S. history.” Over the past four weeks, state chapters have taken to their capitals across the country “demanding new programs to fight systemic poverty and racism, immediate attention to ecological devastation and measures to curb militarism and the war economy,” according to a press release. The Chicago-based Illinois chapter’s focus is on the issues of the $15 minimum wage and Service Employees International Union’s efforts to protect hospital workers in Illinois and Indiana.
“Everybody has a right to live,” intoned Rev. Saeed Richardson, a Baptist minister and member of Chicago-based activist group Community Renewal Society. “Everybody has a right to a living wage. Everybody has a right to health care. Everybody has a right to guaranteed income. Everybody deserves housing. I’ve come here to say that people in Illinois are going through hell. Here we are in a state capital that for years has spent millions and millions of dollars on this building that’s not even complete yet while people across our state go through struggles just to make it to tomorrow. That ain’t right.”
In 1968, the original Poor People’s Campaign had been organized by Martin Luther King, Jr. with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference shortly before King’s death. After King was assassinated that year, Ralph Abernathy set up a 3,000-person protest camp on the Washington Mall, which remained for six weeks in an effort to draw attention to the problem of nationwide poverty.
“I only make $11.75,” said Aiesha Meadows of Chicago’s Fight for 15 organization. “That is obviously not enough to afford much of anything. That means I am living in poverty. Last August, all of us here had a chance to win $15 an hour minimum wage in Illinois, but Gov. Rauner vetoed our bill. He killed us. He stole money from us. He stole food from our babies’ mouths and roofs from over our heads. With that veto, Rauner proved that he stands with billionaires and corporations and not the workers.” Meadows said 63 percent of voters had been in favor of seeing the minimum wage raised in Illinois. “Rauner didn’t care about the people’s vote. He continued to kill us and our families. Rauner, you vetoed us on 15, so we will veto you in November of 2018.”
Meadows explained that she was traveling around the state to demand a better life for herself and a better future for her young daughter, “so she won’t have to fight for her wages like I am. We refuse to continue to work for poverty wages. We deserve to live above the poverty line.”
This coming Saturday, the Poor People’s Campaign will host a Global Day of Solidarity on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Scott Faingold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.