Poor Peoples Campaign fights racism and Whirlpool in Michigan

06/17/10 Kelly Benjamin
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As WMNF reported last week, The Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign is in the midst of a 12-week, 24-city march. The march begins in the Mississippi Delta and ends in Detroit, where the US Social Forum begins next week. A contingent of homeless from the Tampa Bay area is with the march, which is now making its way across Michigan. WMNF's Kelly Benjamin is travelling with the group and brings us this report from Benton Harbor.

The town of Benton Harbor in South East Michigan has seen better days.

"Whirlpool! Don't take our jobs! Whirlpool! Don't take our jobs!"

Once a major manufacturing center for Whirlpool appliances, the town of just over 11,000 people lost over 5,000 jobs in the 1980s and has suffered from post-industrial white flight and continued economic atrophy throughout the past two decades. According to census information, over 92% of the population is African American and over 40% live below the poverty line. Compare this to Benton Habor’s sister city of St. Joseph just across the river, an affluent middle-class resort community that is over 90% white, and a stark contrast begins to emerge.

Rev. Edward Pinkney is leader of the Black Autonomy Network Community Organization and well known local activist who became famous for his daily protests against racism and job losses in Benton Harbor.

“Here in the city of Benton Harbor racism is out of control.”

Reverend Pinckney’s struggle with racism in Benton Harbor is what attracted Cheri Honkala, director of the Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign to make the town a stop on its cross country march.

Several dozen poor and homeless people who arrived with the Poor Peoples march joined Rev. Pinkney in staging a protest outside the Whirlpool Corporate headquarters in Benton Harbor after they announced they were cutting another 200 jobs and closing a downtown plant.

“Whirlpool stop the outsourcing!”

Harbor Shores is a project funded by the Whirlpool Corporation to develop a Jack Nicklaus-designed $500 million luxury golf course and country club on the shore of Lake Michigan at the last remaining public waterfront in Benton Harbor. Rev. Pickney, along with local activists and environmentalists, have opposed the park on the basis that its a corporate land grab that will only benefit the wealthy. However, some local residents, including Jaffrey Bartlett, feel that it’s better than nothing.

Cheri Honkala, whose been traveling the country with the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign sees the situation in Benton Harbor as just another example of a community that has pushed aside the rights of poor people.

Please tune in next week for more of Kelly Benjamin's reports from the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign March as they make their way to Detroit, Michigan for the the US Social Forum.

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hard working American

Whirpool is a racist facist corp. I live in the community of St. Joseph(formally from Benton Harbor) and can say that Whirlpool only supports those from other parts of the world. Not here. They are closing the last manufacturing plant here. I know someone first hand who is out of a job after 20 years ans instead od severence pay, they offered him a front load washer. Not a washer and dryer...just a washer. My daughter works at the call center and is in constant fear of losing her job. Even after seeing a white superviser puting a letter on a black workers desk entitled "How you know you live in Benton Harbor". This is a horrible corp. Research the products that you buy.