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Flagpole. (Athens, Ga.) 1987-current, August 09, 2000, Image 8

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Shadow Convention: The Poor Had A Philly Stake, Too The Republican National Convention in Philadelphia began on July 31, its theme announced by a giant banner on the First Union Center where the delegates, speakers and digni taries met: "Renewing America's purpose, together." A giant red line underscored the "together" in this slogan, but thousands of pro testers from Philadelphia and around the nation challenged that claim. I traveled to Philadelphia to demonstrate with an organization of young people called Empty the Shelters (ETS). ETS works alongside poor people's organizations that are fighting to end poverty while struggling for their very sur vival. One of the organizations ETS supports is the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU). In addition to organizing the poor in its neighbor hood, the KWRU plays a central role in the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, an attempt to create a mass movement to end poverty led by those most affected by it: the poor and homeless. The KWRU organized the March for Economic Human Rights as part of this campaign. It requested a permit from the city for the demon stration - a three-mile march from City Hall to the convention center - but the city denied their request, citing problems with logistics. The orga nizers saw this as an attempt to exclude the voice of the poor from the political process and vowed to march with or without a permit. In the days leading to the march, the police depart ment told marchers that they would be arrested if they set one foot onto the street and could expect to spend at least one week in jail. Someone leaked a Department of Human Services memo requesting that 1000 beds be pre pared for children of arrested marchers. These attempts to intimidate the marchers did not, however, stop their preparations. We arrived in Philadelphia on the afternoon of Friday, July 28 and set up camp in "Bushville," a tent city erected in North Philadelphia. The name evoked images of the "Hoovervilles," named for then-President Herbert Hoover, where homeless families would come together for their survival during the Great Depression. Our accom- • modations were little more than tarps and wooden pallets, but the mood in the tent city was positive. There were speakers, musi cians, prayer services and training throughout the weekend, and the media maintained an almost constant presence. Local television, CNN and even MTV sent camera arews to Bushville to cover the convergence taking place there. Residents of Bushville included members of the KWRU and ETS, as well as members of poor people's organizations from around the country. Recovering druj addicts and alcoholics, threat ened by cutbacks of treatment facilities, came to demand their right to recovery. People with dis abilities, a community devastated by poverty, came to draw attention to their rights to com munication and accessibility. Poor students came to assert that education is a human right, and allies ranging from Veterans for Peace to student activists to labor union presidents came to sup port poor people in their fight for basic human rights. A series of demonstrations and forums occu pied the days leading up to the Republican Convention and the March for Economic Human Rights. On Saturday, July 29 there was a march for universal health care, and on Sunday an event called Unity 2000 brought together thou sands of p r otesters representing a plethora of causes. The event had a camivalesque mood with street theater and information tables distracting most demonstrators from the speakers on-stage. Several times a day during the weekend, the KWRU led a bus tour through Kensington. This "Reality Tour" surveyed the blight of this neigh borhood and the efforts of its residents to orga nize and fight back. Tour participants leaned of Kensington's decline from an industrial center to a place where the two main sources of income are welfare and drugs. We learned how the Clinton administration designated part of the neighborhood as an Empowerment Zone, but $17 million in federal funds resulted only in a strip mall and a supermarket. The benefits of this supply-side development model did not trickle down to the people who live there. We also learned how some Kensington resi dents have organized to take over abandoned HUD houses and former welfare offices in an attempt to house people and draw attention to the devastating poverty hidden in the world's wealthiest nation. As the city of Philadelphia spent millions to show off during the Republican Convention, a group of poor people with almost no resources tried to show the world this hidden reality. The day of the inarch finally came. At the last minute, the police reversed their position, announcing that they wanted to ensure a peaceful march from City Hall to the convention center. We assembled in the morning by City Hall and heard speeches from Cherri Honkala, the Executive Director of the KWRU; Patricia Ireland, the President of the National Organization for Women; members of the KWRU; and representa tives of several labor unions. By the time the march began, the crowd had swelled to several thousand and, it seemed, an equal number of reporters. The police presence - on foot, on horses, on bicycles and in cars - was massive. Prison busses stood by ready for a mass arrest. Civil Affairs officers in plain clothes with arm bands watched alongside Polo-shirted representatives of the US Justice Department. Legal observers from the ACLU and the National Lawyer's Guild also stood by. A group of poor children led the march toward the convention center, followed by people in wheel chairs, deaf people, then union leaders and other prominent participants. The police allowed the march to run its course without incident, deterred perhaps by sheer numbers or the possibility of global embarrass ment. Marchers maintained order and organiza tion: blocking only one lane of traffic and com municating their message without violence from either the police or the protesters. The message of the march was clear: living-wage jobs, food, clothing, education, health care and accessibility are human rights. Poor people refused to be silent while the city of Philadelphia and the Republican Party pretended they did not exist. To take a virtual "Reality Tour" or to learn more about the March for Economic Human Rights, the KWRU, or the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, check out kwru.org James Hare 0 OWNTOVVa. lunch INOKO STtAK • SEAFOOD • JURGERS Mon-Fri 11:30am 2:OOpm DINNER Mon-Thu 5:00-10:00pm Fri-Sat 5:00-10:30pm Sun 5:00-9:00pm 430 E. Clayton SL • Downtown Athens (706) 355-9997 Next to Athens Sushi Bar FLAGPOLE AUGUST 9, 2000