Guards tell Poor People’s Campaign only 2 activists can enter Kentucky statehouse

The Poor People's Campaign was denied full access to the capitol last week.

African-American groups hold a rally at the Kentucky State Capitol building to urge Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin to remove a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from the State Capitol rotunda August 30, 2017 in Frankfort, Kentucky. (CREDIT: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
African-American groups hold a rally at the Kentucky State Capitol building to urge Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin to remove a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from the State Capitol rotunda August 30, 2017 in Frankfort, Kentucky. (CREDIT: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Activists from the Poor People’s Campaign — a multi-state campaign focused on issues such as poverty, housing, systemic racism, increased military spending, and labor rights — were denied entry into the Kentucky statehouse a second time on Monday.

Activists were also denied access to the statehouse last week. They were told only two representatives could come in at a time, but media outlets and activists have not received a full explanation from state police.

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On Monday, the group invited labor rights leaders and others to speak at a rally at 2 p.m. and at 3 p.m. activists attempted to walk into the building. Those who tried to enter the building were told by a uniformed guard, “I am following my protocol to only let two people in at a time.”

One of the organizers asked him, “Were you here when teachers assembled?” and “Did you recall they were all able to access the building?”

“Sure do,” he said. “That was not my call.”

He suggested the activists contact Kentucky state police and repeated that only two people could be let in at a time.

Activists sat down in front of the metal detector and chanted, “Let us in!”

“Lobbyists are allowed to enter this building freely,” one man shouted through the speakerphone.

On Monday, Poor People’s Campaign activists focused on living wages, housing, and education. Activists are specifically calling for a repeal of the state’s right-to-work law, for free tuition at public universities, and a $15 minimum wage, to name a few.

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Right-to-work laws mean workers in unionized workplaces can’t negotiate contracts that make all union members pay union dues. Those workers not paying union dues still get the benefits of union membership. John Beck, a professor at Michigan State University’s School of Human Resources and Labor Relations, told WFPL last year of right-to-work laws, “If the union weakens because it has less and less dues dollars and less and less members, then it has a harder time bargaining subsequent contracts and getting the kind of good wages, benefits or contract provisions that they’ve had in the past.”

Since 2008, Kentucky’s public universities and colleges have seen cuts of $220 million and some schools raised tuition by the double digits, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. Public colleges and universities across the country have done the same, as students struggle to pay off student loan debt. Kentucky lawmakers recently put a limit on tuition increases to 6 percent over the next two years.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, if the federal minimum wage were gradually raised to $15 by 2024, it would increase the pay of 30 percent of the U.S. workforce and would significantly benefit workers of color and women.

The Poor People’s Campaign marks 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized Americans in the original anti-poverty movement. On poverty, the Poor People’s Campaign wrote on in its website, “We challenge the idea that our economy rewards hard-working individuals and, therefore, if only the millions of people in poverty acted better, worked harder, complained less and prayed more, they would be lifted up and out of their miserable conditions.”

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Some of the national movement’s other demands include reinvestment in and the expansion of public housing, relief from consumer, student, and household debt, access to mental health professionals, and an end to the resegregation of schools.

Activists denied entry to the Kentucky statehouse last week were holding a rally on health care. Two Democratic state lawmakers, Attica Scott and George Brown, wrote a letter to Attorney General Andy Beshear asking why they were not let inside, since they didn’t find any such existing regulation.

Activists requested documentation of this regulation from the governor’s office, including public comment procedures. When WUKY requested immediate comment on Thursday, the governor and state police did not respond. Kentucky state police did not respond to the Courier-Journal either. In the past, hundreds of people have gone into the capitol to make their voices heard, including teachers who demanded more education funding this spring.

People from the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council, which represents more than 50 unions and organizations, attended the rally Monday. Kentucky State AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan and a teacher, Christina Frederick-Trosper, spoke at the rally.

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“Seven months ago I accidentally got involved in advocacy,” Trosper said, referring to her criticism of the state’s pension plan that later went viral. “But certain people who temporarily occupy this house and that house over there have forgotten who Kentucky is … What is happening in Jefferson County is mirroring what is happening in mountains. The education system is being cut to the bone.”

Kentucky State AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan said, “There is a war on workers in Kentucky and across the United stated of America and its been happening for 40 years now.”

Jesús Alberto Ibáñez with Mi Gente Louisville talked about the rights of undocumented people and education and healthcare access.

Activists sang “We shall not be moved” and “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” in front of the statehouse.

Poor People’s Campaign activists have been arrested in Kansas, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. during their demonstrations, some of which involve lie-ins and blocking hallways and doors of legislative buildings and offices.