So I broke the law this past week: obstructing traffic, failure to obey an officer, and marching without a permit.
For the United States Social Forum, hundreds of members of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign met in Atlanta, Georgia and marched from the Martin Luther King Jr. Center to Coca-Cola's headquarters. As I mentioned earlier, Women In Transition is a member organization of PPEHRC.
And so began my first experience of non-violent protest - this past Friday at 3:00 we gathered at the grave of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - Activisit, Civil Rights Leader, and Champion of Justice. At the end of his life, Dr. King began to lead a poor people's movement, and as a part of that ongoing movement, we met at the reflecting pool where his and his wife, Coretta Scott King's bodies lie. Public property. AND WE WERE KICKED OUT. Kicked out of the site dedicated to a man who would have been marching right along with us that day.
Somehow, at my first march, I ended up security. Being the little white girl on security was a bit intimidating at first, but I got the hang of it. My job, along with marching and joining in on chants, was to make sure that everybody stayed OFF the sidewalk (where the police kept telling people to go), stayed in one lane of the street, was organized to show our numbers, had water, and to fill in any gaps that might form with other people. And I got to wear a bright orange vest. So while I did all of that, I simultaneously joined in chants demanding healthcare, housing, a living wage, and justice.
"Hey hey, ho ho, Poverty has got to go"
It was near 100 degrees out, but the organizers did a really good job making sure everyone stayed hydrated. Most WIT members were at the very front of the march with their children. Strollers headed our march (as, I've learned, all PPEHRC marches) because they are our future.
One group, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, led a rally at a Burger King along the way. Burger King has paid tomato pickers in Florida horribly low wages and our marchers demanded a living wage for these workers.
When we finally arrived at Coca-Cola headquarters, we held a rally and presented Coca-Cola with a citizens arrest for crimes against humanity, including the privatization of water and exploitation of workers in Colombia.
My mother told me that we were accomplishing nothing by marching. I have two responses to that.
1) If it makes no difference, why the hell were the police flipping out? I saw more police together than I've ever seen in my life. Police cars, motorcycles, horses, bicycles, unmarked cars... and we were followed by helicopters the entire way. Basically, we made a stir in the community and we were definitely noticed.
2) It is freaking powerful! Marching side by side with people from age 3 to 83, of all races, genders, colors, creeds... students, workers, homeless, leaders, all led by those directly affected by the issues: people in poverty. Oh, and the encouragement from passing traffic... honks, peace signs, shouts of joy, people joining along... We were never quiet, we were constantly chanting and singing, and there was nothing the police could do to stop us. We had power and we were being heard.
This week was stressful but also a learning experience. I have never been treated with such disrespect in some ways - I have never experienced Classism before this week. 100 or so PPEHRC members were staying in the Central United Methodist Church of Atlanta. We were treated like children... or criminals, I'm not sure which one's is more appropriate. But last night, the police came and patrolled the hallways, telling us to go to our respective rooms and go to sleep. I was appalled at how the one cop spoke to Cheri Honkala (National Director of PPEHRC). She talked to Cheri like she was trash. "You're in charge here and you're asleep while all these people are out running around?" (Short story... Cheri passed a kidney stone the day before the march, AND THEN MARCHED, two hours, 100 degrees, yea. I wanted to punch this cop in the face).
To be brief, we were not treated like guests and it felt hardly like a house of a Compassionate God. Hypocrisy.
I also have never seen as many homeless people in a city as in Atlanta. EVERYWHERE. and going the week with only one shower (which we borrowed someone's hotel room for) I gained a little bit more of an understanding (though still a very small one) of what it might be like.... at least I'd never gone that long without a shower. yuck. I also had a few conversations with homeless people. One man, asking us what we were doing (after we explained about PPEHRC) replied, "So you're Christians? REAL Christians? Not people who pretend, but those who actually do the work of Jesus?" coughCentralMethodistcough
Other things I did during the week - participated in a Rally at the Atlanta City Hall for Public Housing (even with the extraordinary amount of homeless in Atlanta, they're tearing down even more public housing), ran around and did a lot of logistical things, dealt with the drama of taking a group of women and children on a trip (ahhh), and attended a few workshops myself.
Direct Action Organizing on Campus was the name of a workshop I attended by the United States Student Association. Expect to hear more about that later.
Anyway... I think I'm done for now. If I think of anything else interesting from the Forum or Atlanta, I'll post again.