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Activists demand action by Ohio lawmakers to fight poverty

(February 5, 2018) — The revival of a civil rights-era campaign kicked off on Wednesday as a group of clergy, activists and the poor delivered letters to legislative leaders demanding they fight poverty.

“The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival,” held news conferences in more than 30 state capitals on Monday. According to a news release, members of the campaign will begin six weeks of nonviolent civil disobedience beginning on Mother’s Day on May 13 to protest economic injustice.

The movement is in response to legislative leaders’ “failure to address the enmeshed evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and America’s distorted national morality,” according to the news release.

The movement is a revival a 1968 campaign of the same name. The original “Poor People’s Campaign” was organized by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and sought to gain economic rights for poor Americans.

At the Ohio Statehouse, activists gathered with signs and read impact statements regarding Ohio’s poverty. Topics ranged from the treatment of women in domestic-violence shelters to the presence of lead paint in low-cost apartments, as well as the impact of systemic racism.

Diana Howard, who was representing people living in public housing in Cleveland, said they are given less of a priority by city services like snow plowing just because of where they live.

“Just because we live in public housing doesn’t mean we should be treated differently, or that we should not be receiving the same service as everyone else,” Howard said.

Organizers said the movement was not about race or background, but about the economic rights of all low-income individuals, as well as those living in poverty.

“It is just a people’s movement,” the Rev. Dr. Susan Smith, the director of Crazy Faith Ministries in Columbus and one of the campaign’s Ohio co-chairs, said. “An interfaith movement of Americans who have been made poor by public policies.”

The Rev. Dr. Marian E. Stewart, the senior minister at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, said lawmakers prioritize the state’s economic health over the health of its citizens.

“Instead of a gilded age of rampant inequality where we deport, imprison, and criminalize skin tone, homelessness and poverty, let us set our moral beacon on compassion and empathy,” Stewart said.

After the news conference, members of the campaign delivered a letter to the offices of Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, and Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina. The letter, written by Smith and the other co-chairs, Ruben Castilla Herrera and Larry Bresler, demands the Ohio legislature take up an anti-poverty agenda.

According to a report by the Ohio Development Services Agency, 1.64 million Ohioans are poor, and 42 of Ohio’s 88 counties have poverty rates above the national average.