(Plain Press, August 2016) Cleveland and Philadelphia organizers of national marches, calling for an end to poverty in the United States, gathered in downtown Cleveland, on July 7th, for a press conference to announce plans for marches in both cities during the first day of the national political party conventions in each city. According to a statement by the organizers, the marches were “necessary to put pressure on the leaders of both parties to end the economic inequities and inexcusable poverty that exists in the United States.”
At the press conference held in front of the Cuyahoga Job and Family Service Building on Payne Avenue in Downtown Cleveland, Cleveland organizers announced that a coalition of 30 Cleveland groups would be holding the End Poverty Now! March for Economic Justice on July 18th in Cleveland beginning at the corner of E. 45th and Superior. Philadelphia organizers announced that the Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC) along with 41 groups would be holding the March for Our Lives on July 25th in Philadelphia beginning at the Southside of Philadelphia City Hall.
Organizers of the marches said that in this election year, the needs and rights of the poor in the United States continue to be ignored. Larry Bresler of Organize Ohio, which coordinated the Cleveland organizing efforts said the March is for human rights, particularly Economic Human Rights, such as the right to food, health care and education. Bresler called for an end to the major political parties just focusing on the middle class and forgetting about the poor.
Organizers of the march on the Republican National Convention in Cleveland said, “The Republicans have chosen to have their convention in Cleveland, a city with a child poverty rate of 58%, one of the highest in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Republican Party’s Policies have chosen to address this problem by cutting back funding for all the programs serving the poor and contributing to a widening inequality in our country.”
PPEHRC National Coordinator Cheri Honkala of Philadelphia explained some of the history United States involvement with the creation Universal Declaration of Human Rights and then the abandonment of its mission. She said, “In 1948, the United States took the leadership in the passage of the Declaration of Human Rights. Articles 23, 25, and 26 of the human rights included the rights to food, housing, health care, education and living wage jobs. Instead of abiding these rights, we have had an ongoing war on the poor. This has to end.”
The march organizers called upon the United States government to renew the commitment it made when the United States signed onto the Declaration for Human Rights in 1948.
Diana King, chair of United Clevelanders Against Poverty, one of the Cleveland coalition groups, spoke of her own predicament. “Our family is not atypical for a family in poverty. My husband, who has health problems, has an hourly job with low wages, and we struggle to make it day to day. If he lost his job, my family would be out on the streets homeless. We need a true War on Poverty to create stable families.”
Another Clevelander, Romona Trunbull, weighed in on poverty in Cleveland, “I have worked my entire life, and I still became homeless. Turnbull, an advocate for the homeless, who recently became homeless herself, said, “Today I am regularly working with women and children who are homeless. I see their suffering as they struggle without housing, adequate food, and other essentials in their lives. We demand that our government and the Republican Party immediately commit to uphold our economic human rights and to end the shame of poverty in the United States.”
Khalid Samad, Chief Executive Officer of the Coalition for a Better Life in Cleveland, called for 1,000s to come and join the march on the Republican National Convention in Cleveland to stop injustice now; give people human rights now; and to stop Islamic phobia now. He talked about policies that have led to zip codes in Cleveland having the largest numbers of incarcerated people in every prison in the state. He called for the turning around of these policies that lead to mass incarceration so young people growing up now will be spared this injustice in the future.
PPEHRC”s Cheri Honkala spoke of the protest planned for the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and plans to take the Democratic Party to task for past policies. She noted the hardship in her neighborhood in Philadelphia that came in the aftermath of Welfare Reform passed during the Clinton Administration during the 1990s. She said that prior to welfare reform, the number one source of income in her neighborhood was welfare. Now, the number one source of income comes from sales of illegal drugs. The drug trade in the neighborhood comes with guns, funerals and increased prostitution, she said.