by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, August 2016) A crowd of 1,000 people gathered at a large lot on E. 45th just north of Superior Avenue on July 18th for a rally prior to participating in the End Poverty Now March for Economic Justice. Groups from different parts of Ohio and from throughout the United States joined an array of Cleveland organizations in displaying signs for a wide range of issues and causes.
The two and-a-half hour rally, before beginning the march to the Republican National Convention in downtown Cleveland, featured musical groups, speakers, many displays of signs and enough food for all present — generously served by volunteers from Food Not Bombs and Seeds for Peace.
The wide range of individuals and groups representing different causes and agendas all came together for the End Poverty Now March for Economic Justice, which would be the largest of the marches during the course of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Upon arrival into the rally grounds, members of the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus (formerly Northeast Ohio for Bernie Sanders) greeted people with fliers for an upcoming fundraiser featuring a film called, “Pay 2 Play” by John Wellington Ennis. Meanwhile, up on the stage, an activist from the city of Detroit spoke of poor people being evicted from their houses or being denied water because they couldn’t afford to pay their water bills. Then, Clevelander Sandra Ellington, an Executive Board member of the Service Employees International Union Local 1, spoke of the role unions can play in helping people to decent wages and benefits that lift families out of poverty.
Intently watching the speakers were two young women from Cleveland, Katy Carpenter and Megan Shanklin, each holding up a sign. Carpenter’s sign read, “Justice must include US” and Shanklin’s sign read, “People Are Greater than Profits, End Poverty Now.”
Nearby two Greater Clevelanders, Matt Meister and Pat Mahoney, hold up the sign of the Industrial Workers of the World. Meister, who says the group has its Cleveland office in the Catholic Worker building near West 41st and Lorain Avenue, is proud of the history of the group which he says has been around since 1905.
Alex Chabbott of Santa Barbara California sports a t-shirt reads in English, Spanish and Arabic, “No Human Being is Illegal.” He also had boxes full of literature to pass out, including free copies of “Earth First, The Journal of Ecological Resistance.”
Sitting in a chair watching events unfold at the rally was Raymond Jacobs, a member of the Northeast Ohio Coalition of the Homeless (NEOCH) who held a sign that read, “Stop Racial Hate, Stop the RNC”. Nearby, another member of NEOCH, Kim Goodman, held a sign reading, “End Poverty Now.” Goodman is also carrying a large empty plastic tub which she says she plans on beating like a drum to make noise during the march downtown.
Up on the stage, during the musicians’s break, another speaker took the microphone to talk about police violence in Cleveland including the police chase of unarmed Timothy Russel and Malissa Williams that ended their lives with 137 shots fired into their vehicle by Cleveland Police Officers.
Debbie Silverstein, State of Ohio Director of the Single Payer Action Network (SPAN) took the stage to talk about the financial cost of helping provide health care to all versus the moral cost not helping people with health care. Silverstein, from Kent, Ohio, was joined at the festival by SPAN members Robert Kemp of Bluffton, Ohio and Marlene Goldheimer and Bob Parker of Cleveland. Silverstein said SPAN Ohio’s goal is to get one million signatures statewide to place an issue in support of Single Payer Health Insurance for all Ohioans on the ballot in Ohio in 2020.
Cheri Honkala from Philadelphia, the National Coordinator of the Poor Peoples Economic and Human Rights Campaign came to the stage to talk about the importance of listening to the voices of people, like her, who are living below the poverty line. She urged people to join her cause, “we are going to cause the next American Spring,” she said.
An advocate of raising the minimum wage in Cleveland to $15 an hour took to the stage to talk about Cleveland City Council voting the proposal down and then planning to raise taxes on Cleveland workers. “Tell me if that makes sense,” said the speaker urging people to work to remove people from office that continue to oppress us.
Retired minister Rev John Beaty of Akron, Ohio listened to the speeches while holding a sign that asked, “Why do the rich pay a lower rate of Social Security taxes than the poor?” Nearby Wayne Pressler of Wadsworth, Ohio holds a sign that asked, “Who would Jesus torture?”
Alice Newberry of Seattle Washington, dressed as Donald Trump, accompanied by number of women in colorful dress with crowns on their head that said, “Code Pink” walked through the crowd. Next to her was Alice Newberry of Seattle Washington, carrying a sign that called, for “More Corporate Loopholes.” The group, Code Pink – Women for Peace is a Washington D.C. based group that describes itself as a “grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end U.S.-funded wars and occupations; to challenge militarism globally; and to redirect our resources into health care, education, green jobs and other life-affirming activities”.
In the rear of the lot there is a big trailer with a sign on it that says, “End Prison Slavery, Nationwide Convict Strike 9/9/2016.” Sitting behind the trailer is Michael Alexander talking with him is Clevelander Jim Lardie who for many years ran the non-profit organization For the Children. Alexander, who is with a group called Bend the Bars, explains that the prison strike will involve prisoners electing to stay in their cells for a day. He said concerns that prisoners are fighting for have to do with basic human dignity such as toilets that work and running water. He hands out a flier with information about an upcoming Bend the Bars meeting in Columbus, Ohio.
Near the trailer was a table where volunteers were passing out wraps filled with a mix of vegetables and sauce. The group from Seeds for Peace say they joined with Food Not Bombs in making enough food to feed 1,000 people.
On stage, the last act, Profits of Rage entertained the crowd as they prepared to march. Former Merrick House Executive Director Gail Long, sold End Poverty Now t-shirts to help cover Organize Ohio’s expenses in organizing and hosting the march in Cleveland.
As Profits of Rage finish their act, marchers assembled with their signs. Among them are Kareem Elhasseiny who holds a sign that reads “American Muslims for Palestine – Ferguson to Palestine.”
Hoping to get a good place near the front of the march are a group of young people from Peace in the Hood. Among them are twins Vanashia and Vantashia Rice hoisting a sign that urges “Blacks, stop killing Blacks.”
As word spread that the march was about to begin, people filed out of the lot an onto E. 45th Street where escorted by police they followed the designated route to downtown. Organizers report the End Poverty Now March for Economic Justice was peaceful and there were no arrests. The march did gain some national news coverage with Democracy Now interviewing a number of marchers including Denison Avenue United Church of Christ Pastor Nozomi Ikuta. Here is a link to the interviews and video by Democracy Now: http://www.democracynow.org/2016/7/19/prophets_of_rage_chuck_d_tom