by Lynne Iser

Last Monday, I got arrested in the Pennsylvania State Capitol.  Getting handcuffed and locked up was a bit frightening, but living these days has become scarier and that is why I joined the most expansive wave of nonviolent civil disobedience in U.S. history.

I was in good company.  There were at least eight clergy, along with 16 other folks who got arrested. Together, we were standing in solidarity with the Poor People’s Campaign in their second week of action focused on Linking Systemic Racism and Poverty.  We were part of a nationwide campaign – with over 400 people getting arrested this past Monday in state capitols around the nation.

And the week before – same thing!  Hundreds of people got arrested, and thousands more standing for the theme of “Somebody’s Hurting Our People.”

It is time to break the silence about America’s real war on the poor, and for us all to understand the systemic nature of poverty. Although our economy might be growing, wages are not increasing; the federal minimum wage does not keep people out of poverty; and, 40 percent of Americans have debt as a result of health care.

I believe that people should not live or die in poverty in the richest country in the world.

I believe that it is time to reclaim the moral narrative of our country. As an elder, I know that we must care for all people; and especially those who are going through difficult times.  It is our moral responsibility to care for the poor, the widow and the orphan – to provide a good education for all children, and decent health care for all our citizens.

Fifty years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for a “new and unsettling force” to spark change in our nation, I’m committed to reigniting the Poor People’s Campaign that he and so many others tried to build. We’re creating a fusion movement led by people who are coming together regardless of race, color, creed and sexual orientation to challenge the status quo.  We are joining forces to declare that being poor isn’t a sin, but systemic poverty is. And we are committed to highlighting the interlocking evils of poverty, racism, ecological devastation and the war economy, and showing how you can’t confront one without challenging the others.

I do this for my children, and for the future.  A country without strong moral values cannot continue to thrive. I do not witness integrity in our leadership.  I do not believe it is OK to bail out corporations, while we turn away from those in need.  I do not believe that our young people should be saddled with college debt or our high school students be subjected to gun violence in their schools.  I believe that as a nation we can do better.

Monday’s arrests were just the beginning. Over 40 days, we’ll take our demands to end systemic poverty and racism, the war economy and ecological devastation to our politicians in Harrisburg, and other state capitols.

We are working on the state level because that is where much legislation is passed, and where we, as citizens and neighbors, can build power together – from the ground up. This is just the beginning of a sustained, multi-year effort to save our country’s soul.

When working with others to plan the original Poor People’s Campaign, Dr. King said that to get the attention of legislators, people should “sit down if necessary in the middle of the street and say, ‘We are here; we are poor; we don’t have any money; you have made us this way … and we’ve come to stay until you do something about it.”

In 31 state capitols across the country, that is exactly what we are doing. Will you join us next week?

Lynne Iser is a long-time resident of the Mt Airy and regular reader of the Local. For the past six years she has worked to organize older area residents to advocate for a better future. She co-founded the Spiritual Eldering Institute in Mt Airy and has worked for the past 20 years “educating older folks, both locally and nationally, about what is means to become an elder – rather than to just grow old.”  She is currently on the Leadership Council of the Conscious Elders Network.