Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign
Thursday, May 31st - Thursday, June 13th 2018
Kensington, PA - Washington, D.C.

Diary, Part 1
June 1st

Being in this van at 4 a.m. is like being in Guantanamo Bay: loud as fuck music, blasting cold air, darkness, stress positions, no chance of sleep, and if things keep getting worse under the current administration, inside a metal canister hurtling at high speed across the landmass. As in the regular lives of poor people, we are fighting over limited resources such as space, our immediate interests are conflicting (the drivers need the bloodcurdling metal to stay alert), and we wonder why we got ourselves into such a degrading situation, before feeling guilty for thinking that way, because hey, this HAS to be done. I am not sure how I will get through this. I left home in such a rush I neglected to bring a sleeping bag, roll mat or even a coat. My immediate van buddy has spent hours grabbing at my hands and feet and knees and ignoring my clear discomfort. And if I have to carry these bags 140 miles in a week I'll reach D.C. looking like a white walker. But like working people always say to themselves in the brief respite between the end of one grind cycle and the start of the next... I made it. 

I should have taken the lack of visible basic details and logistics as a sign, and protested by not coming on the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. It's too late now though. We are knee deep in the shit of it. It will either be a foul experience full of inspiration, or a total waste of my time. I'm mostly pinning my hopes on a larger crowd once we get to Philadelphia.

To the 8 person funk we now add McDonald's, acquired by creating huge drive-through lines behind us and confusing the hell out of a fellow poor person with a convoluted set of orders. Funding your class enemies is a necessary option a lot of the time. It is 6 a.m. and I still haven't slept. We are listening to Big Pun and Naughty By Nature, and I am wearing a ridiculous functional hat with dog ear flaps and a chinclip. Fucking hell.

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“It is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America,” so said the US representative at the U.N. this week, Nikki Haley. Not to do anything about it, just look into it. It was in response to U.N. special rapporteur Philip Alston, who recently toured the country and reported that 40 million live in poverty and 5.3 million in Global South-style material poverty. That latter number comes from a metric developed by one Oxford economist earlier this year, with 6.9 million people in the EU in similar conditions. To acknowledge these people in what Haley somehow described as “the wealthiest and freest country” in the world is patently ridiculous.

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It is a rare moment where a hurricane of mad shit isn't swirling around Reverend Bruce Wright. After a 90 minute search for a very particular Philadelphia cheesesteak, we go on an extended manhunt for two people who’ve disappeared on an impromptu drug score. When a couple of cops shut down some young black men playing music and breakdancing in the edgy South Street district, an argument over how to handle the situation leads to Wright flooring our van in fury, and a 25 minute lecture from a longboarder who sleeps rough in downtown St. Petersburg regarding his vast and untapped economic, religious and political power. Arguments break out within and without the group all over, all the time. I say these things not to point and laugh at either Bruce or his Brucie Bonuses, but to demonstrate what a character St Pete has bred. He chooses to work alongside and associate with those who aren't deemed worthy of company by polite society. Despite his infamous short temper, he doesn’t throw people with problems out of the stroller as if they were worthless. We should celebrate him.

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June 2nd

In 1903 there were ten thousand textile workers on strike in Kensington, Pennsylvania. They were the young children of Kensington, part of a larger contingent of seventy-five thousand that were taking part in the action. The labour rights activist Mother Jones took some of the children on a week-long march to Oyster Bay, New York, home of President Roosevelt, to shed light on the terrible conditions of child labour. They slept in barns, bathed in rivers and relied on the kindness of those along the route for food and assistance. It’s eerie how much this echoes the march we made in 2018, from Kensington to D.C.

The fortunes of Kensington -- and Philadelphia in general -- don’t appear to have changed a lot since 1903 either.  There were 1200 overdose deaths in the city in 2017, one of the highest rates in the country, mostly from opioids.  Trash adorns every square foot, piles mount outside businesses and on sidewalks. Many sidewalks are so poorly maintained they are barely walkable. Drug users nodding out on corners are a common sight. Tent cities like the ones in St. Petersburg are visible and Kensington is home to multiple open-use heroin encampments. The trains and old buildings are cool though, rundown as they might appear. The still-funded police get in our space for the second time in twelve hours, this time almost literally. The cute terraced street where we are staying in an ally’s house - where kids are dancing in an open fire hydrant as we arrive in the summer heat - apparently has a lot of desperate people squatting empty buildings. After a neighbour makes a call to the cop shop, they’re threatening to throw us out or arrest us if the owner of the house doesn’t immediately show up with proof that we’re there legally. Heaven forbid she go out for a few hours. Thankfully she does return, but not before we’ve panicked and thrown all our possessions out in the street, and our reverend looks about ready to go Operation MOVE on some motherfuckers.

Incidentally, Kensington is named after a London borough that today has the highest levels of income inequality in all of England; it’s home to both the ashes of the former government housing block Grenfell Tower, where 72 lost their lives in a fire last summer, and also the palace that houses certain trendy young bloodsuckers of the Royal family, recently seen popping out welfare kings and queens worthy of the title. 

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