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This Peaceful Army Can Wage a 'Revolution of Values'

Poor People's Campaign protesters in Lansing, Mich., spread a universal message: Water and health care are human rights. (Michael Nigro / Truthdig)

Editor’s note: Truthdig has launched a reader-funded project to document the Poor People’s Campaign. Please help us provide firsthand accounts of this activism by making a donation.

The fourth week of the Poor People’s Campaign kicks off in Lansing, Mich., where the theme of the week is “The Right to Health and a Healthy Planet: Ecological Devastation and Health Care.”

For the previous three weeks of the Poor People’s Campaign, Truthdig reported from the front lines as thousands of activists and civil rights advocates gathered in Washington, D.C. (Week 1), Chicago (Week 2) and North Carolina (Week 3) in an effort to relaunch Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight against poverty, war and income inequality. May 14 was the first of 40 days of action planned across the nation. The campaign’s goals include federal and state living-wage laws, an end to anti-union and anti-workers’ rights efforts, welfare programs for the poor, equity in education, Medicaid expansion and accessible housing.

See Truthdig’s multimedia coverage of the actions for Week 1, Week 2 and Week 3. Read Truthdig photojournalist Michael Nigro’s piece about the movement and view his audio photo essays for Week 1, Week 2 and Week 3.

With funding support from our readers, Nigro is reporting live in Lansing on the first day of action this week. Scroll down to see Truthdig’s live multimedia updates.

7:40 p.m. PDT: Earlier in Lansing, 29 Poor People’s Campaign activists were arrested after going to Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality parking garage and blocking employee exits.

1:36 p.m. PDT: The goal of the Poor People’s Campaign is to build a “peaceful army to wage a revolution of values.” It is the same goal Martin Luther King Jr. had.

“I’m convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values,” Dr. King said in 1967 in his “Why I Am Opposed to the Vietnam War” speech. “We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered.”

America still has time to heed the call for a revolution of values. But the clock is ticking.

Could the Poor People’s Campaign be the unifying movement?

1:34 p.m. PDT: Lansing police have not made any arrests of protesters as the Poor People’s Campaign action winds down.

1:32 p.m. PDT: A passionate speaker says there are three types of people in the world. Those that dwell in love. Those that dwell in fear. And those that struggle between the two. Those who dwell in love, he declares, must make everyone else more aware and awake to save humanity and create a pathway to continue as the human race.

1:15 p.m. PDT: The U.S. population is 328 million people. The Poor People’s Campaign produced a report called “The Souls of Poor Folk” and found that 140 million Americans, or 42 percent of America, are living on or below the poverty line.

The issues confronted in The Souls of Poor Folk drive the day-to-day struggles of the poor and dispossessed. These issues demand that we dispel the notion that systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation and the war economy hurt only a small segment of our society. More than 40,600,000 Americans subsist below the poverty line; this report additionally shows that there are close to 140 million people dealing with some combination of these crises every day. Nearly half of our population cannot afford a $400 emergency, which presents a structural crisis of national proportion that ties poverty to things like healthcare and housing. The devastation cuts across race, gender, age, and geography. It has carved a dangerous and deepening moral chasm in America and inflicts a tragic loss of purpose, even among the affluent.

1:05 p.m. PDT: Protesters at Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality have wrapped the area with yellow caution tape, calling the place a crime scene. One woman exiting the DEQ building, presumably an employee, had scissors in her hands, cut the caution tape, pulled a rabbi’s shawl and draped it over his head. Then she said, “You guys are awesome.” It was a strange act of violence in an otherwise nonviolent day of protest.

12:51 p.m. PDT: Chanters say, “The MDEQ has got to go.” The MDEQ is Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, which gave Nestlé the right to pump 400 gallons of water a minute from White Pine Springs in Michigan and sell the water. According to Popular Science, “the company will then bottle, brand like Nestlé Pure Life Purified Water or Ice Mountain 100% Natural Spring Water, and sell (at least in New York) for about $2.50 a pop.”

In other words, Nestlé will profit from clean water while other Michigan residents have to pay for dirty, poisoned water.

What is wrong with this picture?

12:36 p.m. PDT: Some street theater is taking place in Lansing. In that drama, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is on trial. The people of Flint, represented by children, are the plaintiffs. The charges include poisoning Flint’s water, killing people and pets and poisoning life for seven generations. The people find Snyder guilty as charged. He is arrested and taken away in a demonstration. Will reality imitate art?

12:33 p.m. PDT: About 50 people will be risking arrest in Lansing.

12:19 p.m. PDT: A disabled man crystallizes why America needs a moral revival.

What we have here is a dis-understanding. This dis-understanding is between Americans and what is called America. America is a thing. Americans are people. Living, breathing people. America is a bunch of systems that impact the lives of real Americans. We cannot expect a thing to behave with compassion. This is why we need a Poor People’s Campaign. That is why we need a moral revival. When systems and policies become more important than people, we have a dis-understanding.

12:15 p.m. PDT: A diverse group of protesters in Lansing is speaking truth to power about health and the health of our planet.

Water is life.

Water is a human right.

Health care is a human right.

We will keep fighting for clean water and universal health care until we can’t fight anymore.

People think that because we are poor, we can’t do anything.

These dry bones can walk, and these dry bones can walk over you.

Do you know what the Hippocratic Oath is?

11:55 a.m. PDT: Thirty-eight states and the District of Colombia are participating in the Poor People’s Campaign. The Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, explains why the movement is in Lansing today. “The state of Michigan is ground zero for the water crisis that is taking place across America. We are four years since the Flint water crisis, and people still do not have clean water.”

The Poor People’s Campaign demands the water situation in Flint changes.

11:46 a.m. PDT: A chant of “Lock Him Up” begins for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who said he would fix the water problems in Flint. That has not happened, even though Snyder released a statement in April to justify closing Flint’s free bottled water distribution centers.

“Nearly two years of LCR [Lead and Copper Rule] data and thousands of other tests show that Flint’s water is testing the same as or better than similar cities across the state,” Snyder said. “Flint’s water is now well within the standards set by the federal government.”

Truthdig ran an important investigation by journalist Jordan Chariton on the Flint water issue and how flawed science has declared the crisis over.

Downtown Flint, Mich. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

11:38 a.m. PDT: Protesters join in song in front of the Michigan state Capitol:

“Somebody’s poisoned the water, and it’s gone on far too long. Somebody’s hurting our children, and it’s gone on far too long. Somebody’s hurting our elders, and it’s gone on far too long. Somebody’s hurting our earth, and it’s gone on far too long. Somebody’s hurting our people, and it’s gone on far too long. And we won’t be silent anymore.”

11:11 a.m. PDT: The live stream has begun. Truthdig correspondent Michael Nigro is documenting what’s happening on the ground in Lansing.

11:20 a.m. PDT: About 450 people are marching to the Michigan state Capitol to make their voices heard.

10:57 a.m. PDT: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder brought his water. Good thing he’s staying hydrated. Word on the street is that it gets hot where he’s going.

Michael Nigro / Truthdig

10:55 a.m. PDT: Truthdig correspondent Michael Nigro will be live streaming video from the Lansing Capitol building in about five minutes. You can follow the stream at Truthdig’s Facebook page.

10:01 a.m. PDT: This morning, state police gave the Poor People’s Campaign notice that it would limit Capitol access to two people at a time. That means that if any other protesters want to enter the building, the two already inside have to leave. In previous weeks, they’ve allowed dozens of protesters to rally in the rotunda—even allowing protesters to sleep in the Capitol building overnight with no consequences.

In response to the state of Kentucky trying to silence poor people, clergy and advocates who are part of the Poor People’s Campaign, the Rev. Dr. William Barber, campaign co-chair, issued the following statement:

The state of Kentucky is trying to change the rules to prevent people from speaking out—in violation of its own Constitution. The rules that need to be changed are not the ones that allow for peaceful, nonviolent protest, but the ones that rob the poor of the right to healthcare and allow billion-dollar companies to pollute our water and environment. Politicians in Kentucky are afraid to hear a true critique of their policies, but we will not be silenced by their descent into authoritarianism.

Here is an excerpt of the Kentucky Constitution that was referenced in the statement: “The right of assembling together in a peaceable manner for their common good, and of applying to those invested with the power of government for redress of grievances or other proper purposes, by petition, address or remonstrance.”

9:57 a.m. PDT: In addition to Lansing, protest actions will be taking place across the United States today in other cities, including Frankfurt, Ky., Sacramento, Calif., and Washington. D.C.

9:33 a.m. PDT: The Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, will lead hundreds of poor people, clergy and advocates in protest today at the Michigan State Capitol to highlight the state’s ongoing water crisis.

Michael Nigro / Truthdig

Michael Nigro
Contributor
Michael Nigro is a leading photojournalist for Truthdig, known for his reporting from deep within major events. He was “on the ground” for the website at the infamous protest in Charlottesville, Va., when…
Michael Nigro
Eric Ortiz
Contributor
Eric Ortiz is a journalist and innovator with two decades in digital media, Ortiz founded the mobile app startup Evrybit, a live storytelling and reporting tool, as a 2014 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at…
Eric Ortiz

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