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Foss: Poor People's Campaign deserves attention

Foss: Poor People's Campaign deserves attention

Foss: Poor People's Campaign deserves attention
Protestors gathered on the Capitol's famed million-dollar staircase on Monday.
Photographer: Sara Foss

Every Monday for the past six Mondays The Rev. Roxanne Jones Booth has come to Albany to attend rallies organized by the Poor People's Campaign.

"I'm a person who believes in standing up for injustice," she tells me, while waiting in line to enter the state Capitol for a PPC protest. "Because injustice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere."

It's a line Jones Booth repeats later, while addressing the protestors gathered at the Capitol's famed million-dollar staircase. A minister at Riverview Missionary Baptist in the Albany County town of Coeymans, her delivery is measured and strong. When she speaks, people listen. 

I've been interested in checking out a Poor People's Campaign rally ever since the weekly events launched in May. 

When the city of Albany made the controversial -- and, in my opinion, poor -- decision to bill the PPC $1,451 for police services for a May march that snarled traffic on the busy Central Avenue corridor, I decided to make a point of swinging by and seeing what the protestors were up to. 

The New York State Poor People's Campaign is one of many statewide campaigns. 

The movement is national in scope, the brainchild of the organization Repairers of the Breach, and calls for an end to poverty and racism, as well as environmental degradation and militarism. 

The PPC is not a new concept, and the issues it seeks to address are not new, either. 

It takes its name from the project Dr. Martin Luther King was focused on at the time of his assassination in 1968: An ambitious, multi-ethnic movement focused on bringing together people from all walks of life to call for an end to poverty and racism. The PPC platform emphasized the need for jobs and income -- needs that are just as urgent today as they were 50 years ago. 

Much like the original Poor People's Campaign, the new PPC is spearheaded by a dynamic African-American minister who frames the struggle for moral and economic justice in spiritual terms: Rev. William Barber from North Carolina. 

"I've been waiting for something like [the PPC] to happen," Jones Booth told me. "I'm thankful Rev. Barber has taken up the mantle." 

I'm thankful, too. 

The aims of the Poor People's Campaign are good ones, and the issues it seeks to highlight are important.

The activists I spoke to in Albany believe that their movement is growing and that the Monday protests are the start of something big. 

As to whether this is true, only time will tell, but right now the PPC is full of energy and hope. At a time when many activists often seem to be in despair over the Trump administration, this optimism and inspiring vision for the future was nice to see. 

Monday's protest was the final local action, at least for now. On June 23, activists from throughout the country will converge in Washington, D.C., to launch the second phase of their campaign. 

The rally at the Capitol drew a mix of people from throughout the state.

Darnell Smith, 30, of New York City, told me he organized buses of protestors from New York City and that he had attended all six rallies in Albany. 

"I'm making my voice heard," he said. 

For Smith, the big issues is health care -- increasing access to health care, improving the quality of health care -- and homelessness. "We need jobs," he said. "We need to get people off the street." 

The protestors held simple catchy signs that emphasized the overall goals of the Poor People's Campaign. "Fight Poverty, not the poor," read one. "Systemic poverty is immoral," read another. 

"There is not a single county in America where a minimum wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment," one speaker proclaimed, as people in the audience nodded their heads. 

When Jones Booth took the floor, she began to sing.

"Somebody's hurting my people," she sang. "And I won't be silent anymore." 

Then she began to talk, sounding like the preacher that she is. "My faith tells me to be present when injustices are being carried out," she told the audience to cheers. 

The speeches are still going on as I take my leave, and I can hear them echoing throughout the Capitol as I make my way to the exit.

Where the Poor People's Campaign goes from here remains to be seen. 

But its message deserves attention from the powers-that-be. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.

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