Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign in Cleveland

06/07/10 Kelly Benjamin
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The Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign is in the midst of a march across the United States culminating at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit later this month. WMNF's Kelly Benjamin is embedded with the march and brings us this report from Cleveland, Ohio.

Poverty has got to go! Hey, hey! Ho, ho!

This weekend, Rev. Bruce Wright crammed two cars full of homeless people from the streets of St. Petersburg and drove them to Cleveland, Ohio, to join with the March to Fulfill the Dream, a 12-week, 24-city march and caravan of poor and homeless people that began in April in New Orleans, and ends in Detroit as the city hosts this year's U.S. Social Forum from the 22nd to the 26th of June. WMNF spoke to Reverend Wright about why he came.

We came up because we believe poverty is a nationwide problem; it's not going to be solved, nor is homelessness going to be solved, just dealing with it locally. It has to be local, regional, statewide, and national. And so we feel like it was important for Florida to be participating in bringing the concerns of what's happening in Florida to the national movement.

Q. Why do you think it was important to bring homeless people from St. Petersburg up here to participate?

Well, it's to organize, but also to help our own community see this as a national and in fact international issue, this issue of poverty and homelessness, and to connect and link them with the larger movement so they can see that, you know, it's not just a few people that are making noise in St. Petersburg or Tampa, but that it's a nationwide thing.

One of the people Reverend Wright brought to the march was Laurie Pinto, a former waitress and newspaper hawker from St. Pete, who recently lost both her jobs.

I'm homeless, and I went to a rally with Pastor Bruce the other night, to try to save my hawker job, which was taken away in St. Petersburg by the city council, who thought that we were a nuisance. And since I had nowhere to go, and I am one of the homeless, and I am poor, Bruce invited me to come on this rally.

The rally, as Laurie calls it, is a march organized by the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign. I spoke with Cheri Honkala, the national coordinator of the campaign, and asked her what the march is all about.

This movement is really about taking up where Dr. Martin Luther King left off, and building a multiracial, intergenerational movement that's led by the poor. And so when we heard that the U.S. Social Forum was taking place in Detroit, Michigan, which is an absolute wasteland, we knew that we had to ensure that as many poor people around the country that are feeling the same kind of misery were in full attendance.

Honkala says online organizing doesn't work when trying to reach the poor and homeless in this country. So she had to take a different track.

So we knew we had to go face to face, and knock on doors, meet people, participate in forums, have truth commissions, have demonstrations, to get up next to the people that we need to involve at the U.S. Social Forum.

In Cleveland, as in other cities, the Poor People's Campaign has networked with activists and homeless advocacy groups, and organized protests, marches, and, this weekend, a truth commission, where testimonials were given on the state of poor people's rights in the United States.

We charge the United States, the president, state and local municipalities, have failed to respond to the human and moral rights and dignity of all of its people, regardless of race, or creed.

Today in Cleveland, a Rust Belt city with a large unemployed and homeless population, the Poor People's Campaign staged a march across downtown, starting at the welfare office, inviting people to join them in creating a movement toward the U.S. Social Forum later this month.

All right, listen up, because we're here fighting not just about ourselves but for each and every one here around health and human service issues. We need all hands on deck, because in effect, each and every one of us, even the ones who are not receiving the public assistance. Because I kid you not, these issues are not about low income; they're not about Democrat and Republican; it's about human issues. And if you don't believe me, when you lost your credit line, and your interest rate went up, as you weren't able to meet your needs, you realized that you were just as poor as the people that you may have turned your head on — and for those of you who thought that this did not pertain to you last year, until you now are standing in line this year with me.

Fight, fight, fight!

Housing is a right!

Fight, fight, fight!

Fair treatment is a right! ...

For more information on the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign go to economichumanrights.org. Stay tuned to WMNF for more reports later this month from the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit.

Additional WMNF coverage of the poor and homeless:

St. Pete passes panhandling ban

St. Pete: '2nd meanest city in the country for the homeless'

Manatee County bans panhandling

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