This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign, called for by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Although Dr. King was murdered a month prior to the Poor People’s Campaign, it happened anyway. Resurrection City was built on the Mall in Washington, DC and people stayed there for six weeks. Fifty years later, widespread poverty exists and the “evils” of racism, capitalism and militarism are still in crisis. Two major campaigns are organizing poor people across the country. We speak with Cheri Honkala of the Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign and Rev. Robin Tanner of the Repairers of the Breach.
Relevant articles and websites:
Thoughts about the Greatness of Selma, Unity and King by Alan Gilbert
Huge Organizing Effort, ’40 Days of Action’ Launching to Fight Poverty by Eleanor J. Bader
America Needs a New Poor People’s Campaign by Rev. William J. Barber, II
Cheri Honkala is an American anti-poverty advocate, co-founder of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU) and co-founder and National Coordinator of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. She has been a noted advocate for human rights in the United States and internationally.She is the mother of actor Mark Webber.
She was featured prominently in the 1997 book Myth of the Welfare Queen by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Zucchino. In 2011, Honkala was the Green Party candidate for Sheriff of Philadelphia, running on the promise of refusing to evict families from their homes. She is best known for being the Green Party’s nominee for vice-president in the 2012 U.S. presidential election.
On January 31, 2017 Honkala announced she is running for Representative of Pennsylvania House District 197 in the March 21 special election to replace Leslie Acosta, who was the second state representative in the 197th District to resign on federal fraud charges. She is considered to have more name recognition than her Republican and Democratic opponents. Honkala ran as a write-in candidate against Republican Lucinda Little; there was no Democrat on the ballot in the heavily Democratic district.
Honkala was endorsed many progressives and organizations including Bernie Sanders’ group Our Revolution, Tim Canova’s group Progress for All, environmental activist Josh Fox, progressives Rosario Dawson and Tom Morello, former Director Emeritus of Philaposh (a labor organization) Jim Moran, former Philadelphia Health Commissioner Walter Tsou, the PEOPLE Committee of the AFSCME District Council 47, Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks, the Philadelphia chapter of Socialist Alternative, and many other local clergy and leaders.
In March 2017, Honkala lost a special election to represent the 197th district in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to Democratic write-in Emilio Vazquez when the votes were counted. However, this election is under investigation by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and the Pennsylvania Attorney General. Honkala, alongside the Green Party of Pennsylvania, Lucinda Little (the Republican candidate), and the State and City Republican parties filed a lawsuit in United States District Court against Emilio Vazquez, the Philadelphia Democratic Committee, Philadelphia City Commissioners, PA Secretary of State Cortes, and the State’s Bureau of Commissions, Elections, and Legislation. The lawsuit alleges widespread election fraud and voter intimidation on the part of Vazquez and the Philadelphia Democratic Committee, and failure to properly supervise the elections for the other defendants.
Claims in the federal lawsuit include electioneering inside the polling place, money exchange between Democratic poll workers and election officials, a ballot box being at Vazquez’s “victory” party, tables set up outside by Democratic poll works made to look like voter sign-in tables, election workers asking people who they are voting for, Democratic ward leaders handling the voting machines, Vazquez meeting with election officials on election day inside of the polling place, and other claims. Despite the investigation, Vazquez was officially sworn in as a member of the Pennsylvania state House of Representatives on April 5, 2017.
Rev. Robin Tanner is a Unitarian Universalist minister, poet, and activist who serves as the Minister of Worship and Outreach at Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summit, New Jersey