“Many Martins” Grow the Campaign: Dispatch from the Northern PA National Emergency Truth and Poverty Tour May 5–8
Back in July 2018, after the 40 days of moral action were over, the PA Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival’s Coordinating Committee convened a gathering of leaders to reflect on the first phase of the campaign and plot out next steps. We set a goal to go to communities that had a hard time reaching Harrisburg for the 40 days. At that time we decided to visit Northern PA, beginning in Erie. In the fall, National put out a call to conduct National Emergency Truth and Poverty Tours across the country. This dovetailed completely with our plans.
We reached out to folks who signed up for the PA-PPC in Erie, Warren, McKean, Potter, Tioga, Bradford and Susquehanna counties, to explore the possibilities for coming together. We would like to particularly thank Margaret Carrow of the PA-PPC Coordinating Committee, Mary Desmone of the Universalist Congregation of Erie, Darnell Stallworth of Keystone Progress, Gary Horton of the NAACP and the Urban Erie Community Development Corporation, Margaret Watts of Erie, and Chris Eng of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Athens and Sheshequin for coordinating with us on the tour.
Our delegation was comprised of PA-PPC:NCMR coordinating committee members from CADBI (Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration), the Sunrise Movement, Better Path Coalition/Marcellus Outreach Butler, UUPLAN (Unitarian Universalist Pennsylvania Legislative Advocacy Network), AIDS Resource, and Put People First! PA. We were joined by Janelle Bruce, Laurel Ashton and Robin Tanner from the National Organizing Team and Suzanne Krull from the New York State Poor People’s Campaign.
Our first stop was an exchange with community groups in Erie at the Unitarian Church of Erie. We heard about the plights, fights and insights of organizers, community members and activists, including struggles around environmental devastation, poverty and systemic racism. We met with people from the state’s poorest zip code according to a recent study. We listened to a tremendous amount of passion and pain. We reflected on the need for deep base building and the identification, development and uniting of leaders in our class, as well as the need for “many Martins” or many leaders.
The next day we visited with the Urban Erie Community Development Corporation and heard about the struggle to increase black teachers in Erie’s public school system as well as land and development issues.
That night we collaborated on the Green New Deal Town Hall in Erie with Keystone Progress and the Sunrise Movement. Michael Bagdes-Canning and Nijmie Dzurinko spoke about the need for direct action and structural change to interrupt the business of environmental devastation and climate catastrophe.
The next day in McKean county, we conducted a teach-in about family separation and heard the personal experience of one of the leaders in our delegation. We connected family separation happening in our communities every day due to poverty with the family separation happening at the border.
Finally, we led a teach-in/sing out in Athens, Bradford County at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Athens and Sheshequin. We heard about amazing projects of survival related to food production happening in a rural community where people are used to looking out for each other. We listened to stories about challenges with healthcare and mass incarceration. We also heard about the urgent need to organize to change the structures.
Every step of the way, our delegation took time to study, reflect and build relationships. Our own leadership development was a major goal of the tour, which we achieved. Additionally, we came into contact with many leaders who are joining the campaign and we are excited to plan next steps in Northern PA!