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In Concord, a movement launched to fight for the poor

  • The Rev. Eric Jackson of Brookside Congregational Church speaks at a rally for the Poor People’s Campaign in New Hampshire, which launched Feb. 5. Ethan DeWitt / Monitor staff

  • The Rev. Jason Wells, executive director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches, delivers a letter to House Speaker Gene Chandler’s office on behalf of the Poor People’s Campaign in New Hampshire on Feb. 5. Ethan DeWitt / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Monday, February 05, 2018

In May 1968, Martin Luther King embarked on the “Poor People’s Campaign,” a series of rallies and marches to address affordable housing, employment opportunity and discrimination.

On Monday, activists in Concord and state capitals across the country sought to rekindle the effort, doling out letters of action in legislative halls and giving speeches. Standing with two dozen demonstrators at a press conference at the State House on Monday, the Rev. Eric Jackson of Brookside Congregational Church in Manchester said that the New Hampshire movement would seek to connect itself to indigent populations and bring forward their concerns.

“This is a campaign that does not just speak for the poor and those that are impacted by these systemic ills,” Jackson said, “but this campaign is designed to stand with and be amongst and partner with those who are impacted by these systemic ills.”

The New Hampshire group delivered letters to the governor and legislative leadership requesting that New Hampshire lawmakers adopt a “moral agenda” to address a host of issues they say affect the state’s low-income population. Among them: inadequate health care, lack of a state minimum wage, and what the group called efforts at voter suppression.

And the letters carried an ultimatum: six weeks of civil disobedience “to risk arrest ... if politicians fail to adopt a moral and just agenda,” starting Mother’s Day, according to a news release from the group. Movement leaders declined to address the nature of the planned actions.

Some said the point of the movement is to raise a voice.

“We recognize we cannot be silent when too many people in New Hampshire and elsewhere are still poor or economically terrified,” said the Rev. Gail Kinney of Meriden Congregational Church in Meriden.

Others had specific qualms. Debbie Opramolla of Rindge said she was disappointed in how little the public school system had focused on New Hampshire’s checkered history with slavery and racism.

Paden Livingston, whose family was forced to move when his son was found to have high levels of lead in his blood, said more needs to be done to address environmental hazards. Even with last month’s passage of a bill putting more responsibility on landlords to remove sources of lead from apartments, Livingston said work needed to be done to address the hazards proactively.

Still, according to Jackson, the group doesn’t plan on directly lobbying lawmakers on any particular bills this session. Nor will it seek to directly propel any particular candidate or party – though many of its stated priorities skew progressive.

Rather, Jackson said, the strategy is one of dialogue and awareness.

“That’s not really the focus of the campaign,” he said. “We’re going straight and uniting and bringing people together who are impacted by these conditions.”

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)