Poor People’s Campaign Arrested While Attempting to Deliver Letters to PA-House of Representatives

Monday, June 11 marked the fifth consecutive week of nonviolent civil disobedient action with the Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival at the State Capitol Building in Harrisburg. As of Monday, there have now been more than 2,000 arrests with the Poor Peoples Campaign nationwide, as the most expansive wave of nonviolent direct action in U.S. history continues to gain steam.

Photo Credit: Michael Hodgson

Every week for more than a month, everyday people from all over Pennsylvania have traveled to the State Capitol Building to demand that state legislators end militarism, racism, poverty, and ecological devastation.

This past week was no different. Beginning on Sunday evening, poor people, clergy, activists, organizers, and children, flooded to Harrisburg to prepare for Monday’s rally and action. While very few people prefer a church floor to sleeping in their beds, activists came on Sunday to paint banners, practice songs, and most importantly, build the community needed to sustain this kind of multi-year movement.

The fifth week of the Poor People’s Campaign focused on the right to education, living wages, jobs, income, and housing.

The rally and action on Monday was anchored by ACT UP Philadelphia, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and SEIU: Service Employees International Union, with participation by United Food and Commercial Workers, United Steelworkers, Washington County United, Global Women’s Strike, PA Student Power Network, and March on Harrisburg.

Organizers from ACT UP and SEIU emceed the action. Pictured: Jamaal Henderson, ACT UP Philadelphia, and Tonya Morrow, SEIU.

“I’m a single father,” said Jamaal Henderson, co-emcee of the action on Monday. “I go to school full time. I take care of kids full time, you know, I work full time, but yet I’m still struggling on a day to day basis just to make sure me and my children have what they need.”

The rally uplifted voices of those most affected from living without a living wage, affordable housing or education.

Karriemah Harris, with Global Women’s Strike in Philadelphia. Photo credit: Michael Hodgson

“On top of being a child therapist by trade and caregiver to my teenage daughter, to the children of my partners, and my brother when he came out of prison, I’m also caregiver of my mother, who is in recovery”, said Karriemah Harris.

After the rally in the main hallway of the Capitol building, the campaign attempted to deliver letters to all members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Max Ray-Reik and Leon Tyer (right), organizers with ACT UP in Philadelphia attempts to enter the House of Representatives to deliver letters with the demands of the PPC. Tyer was both one the day’s speakers and one the moral witnesses that was arrested. Photo Credit: Michael Hodgson

Before presenting the letter, Max Ray-Reik, an organizer with ACT UP in Philadelphia, explained to the crowd why they were there:

“When we try to talk about jobs, housing and education, politicians always try to pass the buck. When we say we need better education, they say, ‘Well, we don’t have enough property taxes’.

When we say, ‘Great, then we need more affordable housing, so people can own a house and pay their property taxes’, they say, ‘Oh, you can’t get a house unless you have a better job’.

And when we say, ‘Great, then you need to make sure everyone has a basic income, that we have livable wages and good union jobs’, they say, ‘We can’t do that because people don’t have a enough education’.

And then we’re at the beginning of the cycle. They don’t understand they’re all pieces of a bigger picture — what they’re missing is that we’ve got to lift from the bottom.

When we guarantee the basic income, when we guarantee housing, when we guarantee good jobs and education for the poorest communities, that’s when everyone rises together.

We wrote that in a letter and we have 203 copies so that every single representative is going to know what we stand for.”

Capitol police refused to let the campaign deliver the letters or give them access to the floor of the House of Representatives.

Instead of giving up, the crowd of people, led by the moral witnesses, moved to another entrance of the House of Representatives to demand entry. They were again denied. This time, the moral witnesses sat in and asked to wait to see their legislators.

Before being seen by any legislators, they were arrested, while holding banners that mimicked the letters, reading “EDUCATION, HOUSING, JOBS — LIFT FROM THE BOTTOM!”

8 moral witnesses sit-in in front of another entrance to the PA House of Representatives before being arrested by Capitol police. Photo Credit: Michael Hodgson

The crowd of more than 150 joined them in signing the labor anthem, “Which Side Are You On?” as the moral witnesses were taken away by Capitol police.

The crowd, including dozens of labor members of SEIU and United Steelworkers, sang and chanted as eight moral witnesses sat-in in front of an entrance to the House of Representatives. Photo Credit: Michael Hodgson

The Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign will return to State Capitol on Monday, June 18 for its sixth and final week of 40 Days of Action, which is just the launch of a multi-year campaign.

PA-PPC: A National Call for Moral Revival is a movement led by the poor, demanding an end to poverty, racism, militarism & ecological devastation.