Over a hundred workers, activists and clergy members descended on the State Capitol on Monday as they joined a nationwide campaign calling attention to poverty, inequality, racism and ecological devastation.
The protesters aligned with the Minnesota Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival focused their opposition to proposals at the Legislature that would pre-empt city governments from passing their own minimum wage or paid-leave ordinances. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed such a measure last year, but Republicans in St. Paul have continued to consider pre-emption proposals.
“Pre-emption means poverty. It will deny workers the right of having fair minimum wages across the industry,” said Eli Edleson-Stein, of ROC United, which represents restaurant workers. “We want Governor Dayton to veto the bill.”
The group staged a surprise protest outside the office of Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, a sponsor of the pre-emption bill. Holding banners and shouting slogans, they demanded a raise in the minimum wage from the existing $9.65 for large employers, to $15 an hour. Edleson-Stein said that 13 protesters were arrested.
“It looks like, instead of finding ways to eradicate poverty, our leaders want to target the poor,” said DeWayne Davis, one of three co-chairs of the Minnesota campaign, and senior pastor at All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church in Minneapolis.
The campaign will continue in more than 30 actions around the country each week for the next 40 days. The aim, organizers said, is to ensure lawmakers address the issues and help reclaim the nation’s “deteriorating” moral narrative.
Abandoned by his parents after he was born, Steven Suffridge said he had been homeless for seven out of the last 17 years and has not been able to make a proper living. An employee at a fast-food restaurant, Suffridge, 43, blames corporations for his situation.
“I do not make even $11 per hour. How could I plan my health insurance?” he asked.
The campaign is co-organized by Repairers of the Breach, a social justice organization; the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary; and several other groups. It draws its inspiration from the original Poor People’s Campaign started by Martin Luther King Jr.