Poor People’s Campaign activists arrested in multiple states

More than 100 were arrested nationwide for rallying for health care and environmental protection.

Police escort activists away from the Kansas Capitol building Monday. (Credit: WIBW, Screenshot)
Police escort activists away from the Kansas Capitol building Monday. (Credit: WIBW, Screenshot)

Activists with the national Poor People’s Campaign faced backlash from government officials and law enforcement during nationwide protests Monday. More than 100 people in Kentucky, Kansas, California, New York, Maryland, South Carolina, North Carolina, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. were arrested or blocked from entering government buildings.

The campaign, which marks 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized thousands of Americans in the original anti-poverty effort of the same name, seeks to raise awareness about economic disparities and poverty, systemic racism, ecological devastation, and increased military spending. The multi-state, 40-day movement entered its fourth week on Monday, with protests in more than 30 states focusing on health care and environmental justice.

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In Kentucky, hundreds of activists were barred from entering the state capitol building in Frankfurt following a rally in which speakers objected to the state’s Medicaid work requirements that threaten to kick thousands off health coverage. Officers blocked the building entrance, telling protesters that they would only be allowed in two at a time.

“So you’re going to literally block us from our constitutional right?” said co-chairman of the Poor People’s Campaign, Rev. William Barber, according to the Associated Press.

Protesters began chanting “let us in” and singing before moving away from the building, where Barber addressed the crowd.

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“My spirit is telling me that there’s a trick in all of this … If they say two-by-two and three try to push in, technically, if you touch an officer, they could say that’s a felony,” Barber said, according to footage posted on Facebook by one attendee. “We are going to instruct the lawyers to quickly go to court in Kentucky … What we need is for you all to organize this and some more for next week. You’ve got to keep coming back.”

“We will,” several protesters shouted in the crowd.

A Kentucky State Police spokesman told the AP that the officers limited access to the state building because demonstrators did not seek approval to protest inside the building.

In a statement following the protests, Barber elaborated on his disappointment, arguing that Kentucky officials are “trying to change the rules to prevent people from speaking out — in violation of its own Constitution.” He added that “the rules that need to be changed are not the ones that allow for peaceful, nonviolent protest, but the ones that rob the poor of the right to healthcare and allow billion-dollar companies to pollute our water and environment. Politicians in Kentucky are afraid to hear a true critique of their policies, but we will not be silenced by their descent into authoritarianism.”

Protesters across the country shared Barber’s sentiment. In Washington, D.C. 28 people were arrested in the Capitol rotunda Monday, following a rally on the Capitol lawn, where hundreds of demonstrators gathered to protest Medicaid work requirements, Republican efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, and the insufficient response to ecological disasters in Puerto Rico and Flint, Michigan. In nearby Annapolis, Maryland, five people were arrested for protesting outside the State House building.

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Police in Kansas arrested 16 people for blocking the door outside Gov. Jeff Colyer’s (R) Topeka office. Dozens of demonstrators had gathered at the office to protest the governor’s opposition to a Medicaid expansion bill, which would have provided health coverage to some 150,000 Kansans.

Prior to the arrests, protesters gathered in the building rotunda, where they sang spirituals and heard from speakers about the importance of health care, particularly for individuals with disabilities.

“People with disabilities don’t want prayers, we want access to health care,” Rev. Letiah Fraser said, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

At least a dozen demonstrators were arrested in New York for blocking the hallways in the state Senate building in Albany. In California, 13 protesters were arrested in the state Capitol rotunda.

“I’m here because we need health care. We need to clean our water. We need to make sure that our air is safe for our children to breathe,” said Rev. Eddie Anderson, according to a local NBC affiliate.

Protesters in North and South Carolina also faced push-back from police officers on Monday. Thirteen demonstrators were arrested at the North Carolina legislature in Raleigh, after more than 150 activists tried to enter the building. In neighboring South Carolina, about a dozen people were arrested for staging a “lie-in” on a highway in front of the state capitol building.

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“There are people who are burdened by the cost of medical care,” Columbia minister Charles Rhodes, one of the arrested protesters, told the AP. “One party has tried to destroy Obamacare and that impacts poor people, the elderly, a whole variety of people.”

Protesters in Ohio staged a similar “die-in” at the state House, resulting in the arrests of nine people. Demonstrators in Columbus rallied, while others laid down in front of the building in opposition to environmental and health policies that hurt poor people.

The arrests likely will not stop protesters from continuing their demonstrations nationwide. The movement will culminate in a mass mobilization at the U.S. Capitol building on June 23.