Poor People’s Campaign rallies for social and economic justice on Capitol steps

The Michigan Poor People’s Campaign “Moral Witness Wednesday” press conference on May 18, 2022 | Allison R. Donahue

By Allison R. Donahue, Michigan Advance

A small group gathered outside the state Capitol on a rainy Wednesday afternoon for the Michigan Poor People’s Campaign “Moral Witness Wednesday” rally to demand that the state’s elected officials support basic human needs from minimum wage increases to reproductive freedom to prison reform. 

“Whether you are working on foreclosures, whether you are working on fair wage, whether you are working on reproductive rights, whether you are working on line three and line five, whether you are working on water. … Whether you are working on an unjust system, whether you are working on incarceration, whether you are working on health care, you are all in the same struggle. You are in the same family,” said the Rev. Ed Rowe, the pastor emeritus at Central United Methodist Church in Detroit. 

The event consisted of a number of speakers from advocacy groups around the state that each focus on different issues. 

However, their messages were all the same: Get involved. 

Noelle Kellogg, a program associate with Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health (MOASH), urged the crowd to join the signature-gathering effort for the Reproductive Freedom For All ballot initiative. 

The ballot initiative aims to secure Michigan’s right to safe and legal abortions and other reproductive health measures in the state Constitution. 

Last month, a draft decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 right-wing majority, was leaked that showed the court’s intention to overturn the 1973 landmark decision in Roe v. Wade that granted the constitutional right to abortion access. 

If Roe is overturned, the state has a 1931 law that would make all abortions in Michigan a felony, unless to save the life of the pregnant woman. However, on Tuesday, a Court of Claims judge granted a preliminary injunction in a suit brought by Planned Parenthood seeking to block enforcement of the state’s 1931 abortion ban.

“Real power lies within grassroots organizing, engaging and mass movements. SCOTUS has the power to make this federal decision on Roe, but we have the power to keep abortion legal and to protect everyone’s reproductive choices in Michigan through mobilizing for the Reproductive freedom for all ballot measure. We urge you to listen to the young people in your lives to trust them and to support them,” Kellogg said.

Another issue covered during Wednesday’s rally was raising the state’s minimum wage — an ongoing fight in Michigan for years. 

Chantel Watkins, lead organizer for One Fair Wage, a coalition aiming to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, said that wages need to reflect the current inflation. 

“Inflation has increased over 12% in three months and is projected to grow at least 8% more by the end of the summer. People will be choosing between gas food and bills more than ever. That’s not right. It’s been hard enough already. But to tell me it’s about to get harder is not just a shame, but it’s criminal,” Watkins said. “We can’t stop because $15 won’t be enough. Our policy also includes an inflation check so that we don’t have to keep going to the legislature to fight.”

One Fair Wage garnered enough signatures in 2018 to get on the state’s ballot, but it was  adopted by the GOP-led Legislature and amended to weaken the legislation and overturn the initial intention of the initiative. 

One Fair Wage has another shot to become law and raise the minimum wage in Michigan to $15 an hour by 2027. The proposed ballot measure is an indirect initiated state statute, which means that if the initiative receives the necessary 340,057 valid signatures, it will be sent to the Legislature.

The event Wednesday precedes a march by the National Poor People’s Campaign on June 18 in Washington, D.C., to call for economic and social change at the national level.

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