Mass march in L.A. underlines the problems of the poor
Participants in the Los Angeles rally organized by the California Poor People's Campaign. | Rossana Cambron / People's World

LOS ANGELES—Lucia Torres of Los Angeles helped the Poor People’s Campaign bring home the problems poor and low-wealth people face in the richest nation in the world and the richest state, by gross domestic product, in the U.S.

Torres, you see, lost her husband to the coronavirus pandemic, even though he may not be among the one million, officially, who have died so far from the modern-day plague.

“My husband lost his job due to the pandemic” closing the firm he worked for, and then he got sick, Torres explained during a rally after a May 16 march through downtown L.A. to a park across from the former main city post office, near Union Station.

“He was hospitalized” with the rampaging viral disease, said Torres, who migrated from the Mexican state of Guanajuato to L.A. 21 years ago. “But because we didn’t have documents”—U.S. legalization papers—the family couldn’t get health insurance, even under the Affordable Care Act.

“The doctor said the cost of treatment would be too high and my husband had to go home to die among us.” As a result, the family almost was evicted, too, said Torres, who helped lead a recent renters’ strike in L.A.

The Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, speaks in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Monday May 16. | Rossana Cambron / People’s World

“There’s a lot of families like us that still live with the uncertainty of getting evicted.”

Problems paying the rent, or finding a decent-paying job, organizing a union, or being forced into homelessness, are among the ills afflicting the nation’s 140-million-plus poor and low-wealth people nationwide, said the Rev. William Barber II, the campaign’s co-chair.

That’s one reason the Poor People’s Campaign staged a mass rally in Los Angeles, drawing more than 1,000 people from the city alone. Thousands more came for the march and rally from as far away as Phoenix, Ariz., and Bellingham, Wash.

Many plan to take their crusade to waken the nation to the need to eliminate poverty to the PPC’s mass rally in D.C. on June 18. Barber urged them to board buses headed there. The PPC is already taking reservations for that Low Wage Workers Assembly and March On Washington and To The Polls, at https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/june18/

“We are going to change this nation…and we will not stop until this nation changes,” he stated. “This nation has a heart of stone, and needs a new heart—and we are the surgeons” who will provide one.

Several speakers came to the Los Angeles podium to tell their stories, demanding that lawmakers, especially in D.C., listen. They got a favorable reception and support, including from Service Employees Local 721, in the nation’s second-largest city. It set up a welcome tent at the edge of the rally site, and members marched alongside the others.

But some lawmakers, mostly Republicans, are hostile, Barber said. But Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., is a problem, too. In the evenly split and constitutionally imbalanced U.S. Senate, small red states such as Idaho have as many votes, two, as middle-sized purple states (Arizona) or big blue ones (California).

And it’s not just lawmakers, Barber warned. The livestream of the rally was directed at undecided people, not just the supporters who lined the streets of L.A. “People don’t want to hear” about the plight of the poor and low-wage people, he explained.

“But there’s not one county in the country where you can rent a 2-bedroom apartment on the (federal) minimum wage” of $7.25 hourly.

Speakers at the L.A. microphone reflected the multiracial population of the West, and the multiple issues the Poor People’s Campaign stresses on its way to D.C. They include the Fight for $15 and a union, cutting the military budget in half and redirecting the money to domestic needs, decent and affordable housing, better education, universal health care and battling white “Christian” nationalism.

Barber, in his remarks, added the constitutional right to abortion to the mix—a right endangered by both unanimous Republican hostility and the five right-wing Republican justices who are the majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The greedy forces” that pushed uranium mining on Navajo land in Arizona—leaving its Indigenous people with 1,200 abandoned mines and high cancer death rates—“are the same ones that will be behind ending Roe,” Barber said. Roe v Wade was the court’s 1973 decision legalizing abortion in most cases during the first six months of pregnancy. The justices are expected to overturn it by June 30. A draft ruling killing Roe has already leaked.

“By ending abortion, they’re going to get more power over women,” Barber declared.

“So my sisters” campaigning to keep abortion constitutional “have to fight” alongside the Navajo women fighting the federal government and the mining companies in Arizona.

Other speakers raised other issues affecting exploited poor and low-wealth people:

  • Curtis Freeman of Sacramento added another looming eviction, courtesy the federal government. He explained there’s a special program called Room Key that finds housing for the homeless. But it’s going to run out of funds on July 1.

“They’ll put us out on the street, or make us pay $800 rent” monthly, he said.

  • Navajo Nation member Cora Phillips called the uranium mining fiasco, which began during World War II, “a human-caused disaster.” Barber said, as he has before, that most of the pain poor and low-wealth people suffer is from planned government policy.

“It’s the corporate world we live in that dismantles you as a family and as a community,” warned Apache speaker Wendsler Nosie. “I’m your ancestor. Hundreds of years ago, we fought colonization and capitalism from the beginning,” said Nosie. They still do so.

  • The Rev. Monica Cross, a Black transgender military retiree who served for 22 years, also teaches at a community college. She spends her time there telling students about having to bite her tongue on both issues and her gender during her military career, lest she be fired before qualifying for her pension.

And Cross reminded the crowd the first president to discuss the military-industrial complex, Republican and retired Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, actually called it “the congressional-military-industrial complex.”

Rossana Cambron / People’s World

Each speaker had only limited time at the podium, so Cross couldn’t discuss what it’s like living next to one of the nation’s more accident-prone oil refineries in Richmond, Calif. That, too, characterizes the plight of the poor, other speakers said at past PPC events: Polluting industries are deliberately sited in their neighborhoods.

  • Low-wage workers face “wage theft, violence, sexual harassment” and unsafe working conditions, said Bartolomey Perez, a leader in L.A.’s Fight for $15 and a Union campaign. “Our companies value dollars more than our lives,” the McDonald’s worker added. During the pandemic, “the firm made billions and even denied us sick leave.”

Perez pushed state legislation, AB257, to establish a joint state-labor-industry board to set minimum standards for wages and working conditions in fast food—with state enforcement as a “stick” to force compliance.

  • Grassroots organizer Maya Morales from Bellingham, Wash., currently working on data privacy and tech justice with Washington People’s Privacy Network, talked about the urgent need for strong people’s data privacy and tech justice laws. Morales shared her experience working to address intersectional issues of racial justice, policing, housing, fair wages and organized labor in her city with People First Bellingham.

People First achieved against-the-odds wins on two of the four people’s initiatives they placed on their municipal ballot in 2021. One win was to ban use of city funds against workers organizing unions. The other was to ban city use of predictive policing and face recognition software.

The lesson, Barber said, is the power of unity and the need for advocates of various causes to get out of their individual siloes and unite. The capitalist and corporate class deliberately tries to make each group concentrate only on its own causes, a divide-and-conquer tactic, he pointed out.

“When we come together in a chorus of voices, we are incredibly powerful,” Morales affirmed.

An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated the outcome in Bellingham. It said one of the initiative wins raised the minimum wage. It mistakenly said she survived Covid-19, when she actually emerged from the Covid bubble, and that there was a corporate campaign against all four. The campaign was against one of the initiatives, on hazard pay and fair scheduling. The initiative lost.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

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