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Dozens Arrested as Poor People’s Campaign Rallies at Capitol

Protesters hoisted a casket to represent poor Americans killed by ecological disasters and lack of health care

Protesters carry a coffin to the East Front of the Capitol as environmental activist groups joined forces Monday with the Poor People’’s Campaign to demand the right to health care and a healthy environment. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Protesters carry a coffin to the East Front of the Capitol as environmental activist groups joined forces Monday with the Poor People’’s Campaign to demand the right to health care and a healthy environment. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)


Capitol Police arrested 28 protesters in the Capitol Rotunda on Monday following a march and rally organized by the Poor People’s Campaign, a grass-roots group calling for a national “moral revival” to address social inequality.

About 120 protesters showed up for the rally on the Capitol lawn, which included speeches from four Christian ministers and others. Demonstrators hoisted a wooden casket and planted grave markers on the lawn — icons which they said represented the deaths of poor Americans due to lack of health care and ecological protections.

Speakers at the rally cited efforts to introduce work requirements for social programs, the rollback of the 2010 health care law and the effects of ecological disasters in Puerto Rico and Flint, Michigan, which they said disproportionately fell on the backs of the country’s poor.

“Marginalized people are suffering first and worst, whether they are white people in Appalachia, indigenous peoples at Standing Rock or people in Puerto Rico,” said Catherine Flowers, a rural development activist from Alabama.

The group marched into the Rotunda after the rally, carrying letters intended for Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, according to a protest organizer. Denied access to the Republican leaders, they sang protest songs until Capitol Police broke up the demonstration.

The arrested protesters were charged with crowding, obstructing or incommoding and were processed and released by early Monday evening, according to a Capitol Police spokesperson.

The group was also asked to remove the casket from Capitol grounds, according to organizers.

The Poor People’s Campaign says it is fighting “systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation, and the nation’s distorted morality” and boasts a membership in the tens of thousands nationally, according to the group’s website. Supporters of the group include, American Federation of Teachers, Democratic Socialists of America, Doctors for America and a variety of religious groups.

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Rally attendees donned signs with slogans such as “Global warming is a violence” and “Denying health care is a violence.” Speakers called upon legislators to “fight poverty, not the poor.” Wanda Miller, of Put People First! PA, called work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and Medicaid “nothing more than an insidious attempt to remove people from these vital programs.”

Three dozen cities throughout the country saw protests Monday similar to the rally on Capitol Hill. The Rev. William Barber led protests in Frankfort, Kentucky, against Medicaid work requirements, which could leave tens of thousands in the state without coverage, while the Rev. Liz Theoharis joined delegations in Lansing, Michigan, where Flint and Detroit residents protested the state’s water crisis entering its fourth year.

Barber and Theoharis, co-chairs of the campaign, have both been arrested twice for their efforts, including last week in collaboration with the Rev. Jesse Jackson at a pray-in in the Capitol Rotunda, according to a press release.

Barber, a prominent Protestant minister and political figure in North Carolina, is also the former president of the North Carolina conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“Before we walked up here today we heard stories and names of people who died, whose lives have been affected,” said the Rev. Beth Johnson, a minister and campaign organizer from California. “Every person here knows someone who has been affected — by environmental racism, by ecological devastation or by the lack of health care.”

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