Samantha Sanchez-Ibarra, an Armstrong High School senior in Plymouth, and her mother, Graciela, are hardworking Minnesotans from Mexico who are now compelled to work harder than ever. Each is now holding down two jobs to pay mounting legal bills because Samantha’s older brother, Armando, was seized and incarcerated by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), even though no criminal charges have been filed.
These good people, our dear friends, have been contributing to our Minnesota economy for 16 years. Thus, both 18-year-old Samantha and 24-year-old Armando are Dreamers, still allegedly protected by federal law from deportation. But Armando has been shuffled to five different immigration detention facilities in three states in the last three months, including having been held in solitary confinement in Minnesota, and at a notorious for-profit detention/medical facility in South Carolina, where he was deprived of basic human rights and protections of the U.S. and state Constitutions.
Samantha and Graciela are worried sick about his fate, because of his history with mental health problems. They have been unable to visit him since his arrest in December after he was released from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, which in reality operates as an arm of ICE.
Every day in our communities, we as religious leaders work with people like Graciela and Samantha and Armando, and many other Minnesotans who are suffering from systemic racial disparities, xenophobic persecution, economic exploitation, or neglect and deprivation. Meanwhile, our nation continues to squander trillions of tax dollars on a bloody and protracted 16-year war in the Middle East. Environmental degradation and climate change worsen. And our own Legislature has been proposing racialized voter restrictions and harsher criminal sanctions that violate our sacred right to democratic protest.
Arm-in-arm with Samantha and thousands like her in the coming weeks, we are determined to disrupt this injustice and to mount a moral revival in Minnesota. On the day after Mother’s Day we are launching the Minnesota Poor People’s Campaign, commencing with a Women & Children’s Rally at the State Capitol in St. Paul. This will be followed by similar actions with a different theme each week over the next 40 days, featuring rallies, demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience.
And we will be joined by synchronous efforts in about 30 other states, and in Washington, D.C.
This campaign resonates with many tributes honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. this year in Minnesota and across the nation. A few months before he was assassinated by a white supremacist in 1968, King helped launch the original Poor People’s Campaign, which transformed the civil-rights movement into a wider “fusion” campaign. The broader themes included opposition to the Vietnam War and the military-industrial complex, combating inequality and hardship for those of all races in the lower economic strata, and advocating for women’s rights and environmental justice.
Make no mistake: We are people of faith and loyal Americans, and our campaign is both deeply religious and profoundly patriotic.
Every major religious tradition places challenging oppression and criticizing systems of injustice at the center of its moral considerations. Furthermore, the Preamble to our U.S. Constitution articulates foundational goals of establishing justice and promoting the general welfare for “We the People,” no exceptions. Our proudest moments in our nation’s history resulted from our better angels trying to live up to these principles and build a more equitable economy and society.
In recent decades, however, we have lost the direction and momentum that arose in the late 1960s. The War on Poverty, which produced great strides at first, has been transformed into a War on the Poor.
Hard facts and megatrends bear this out. Our own research and thorough audit of our national economic and social conditions shows that 140 million Americans, or about 40 percent of us, are living in or too close to official poverty. This holds true in Minnesota as well, and it’s common knowledge that the percentage is higher for women, immigrants and people of color. (The full audit is available at PoorPeoplesCampaign.org). Despite tremendous economic growth for the wealthiest and many corporations since 2008 and current low unemployment rates, tens of millions of us are a bad break or a medical diagnosis away from desperation.
Clearly, it’s not because 140 million Americans are lazy, unwilling to work hard. It’s mostly because politicians have blocked living wages and universal health care while undermining union rights and public investment in human capital and economic security. As a result, the richest 1 percent in our country own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined.
While the top 10 percent grow their advantage, there are people like Emily White, a 26-year-old Minneapolis service worker who grew up in Alexandria in western Minnesota, whose struggle highlights why we are joining this campaign.
One of four children raised by a single mother working low-wage jobs, Emily has never known anything but hardship. Emily herself has been working steadily since she was 14, at less than livable wages, for about 10 different employers. She has cleaned lakefront beaches for fancy condos, delivered pizza and toiled at fast-food restaurants and other retail chains. She’s about to get laid off and worries about health insurance, especially since she has been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder.
Emily is joining our campaign because she is angry and fed up with what she calls “a system that is not working for the average person, that is designed to make people like me struggle.”
We urge all Minnesotans of goodwill to join us in the Minnesota Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival at https://www.facebook.com/mnppc/.
DeWayne Davis is senior pastor of All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church in Minneapolis. Arielle Rosenberg is assistant rabbi at Shir Tikvah Synagogue in Minneapolis. Rob Eller-Isaacs is co-pastor at Unity Unitarian Church in St. Paul. They are the tri-chairs of the Minnesota Poor People’s Campaign.