Poor People’s Campaign highlights environmental, healthcare injustices in Alabama

On Monday, afternoon sun reflected off the stark-white Alabama State Capitol as the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) assembled. Karen Jones went to the microphone singing: “Everybody’s got a right to live, and before this campaign fails we’ll all go down to jail. Everybody’s got a right to live.” 

At 3:24 p.m. Revs. Foster and Allgood, tri-chairs of the PPC, welcomed the crowd to the fourth week of nonviolent direct action. This week’s focus was on the ecological devastation and inadequate healthcare Alabama faces.  Additionally, PPC of Alabama responded to the state’s celebration of Jefferson Davis’ birthday.

Rev. Allgood opened with the mission statement:

“This is a campaign to unite the poor, disenfranchised, and to challenge the interconnected evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and ecological devastation. We believe a moral rival is necessary to save the very heart and soul of our nation. By lifting up the leadership of the people who are most directly impacted, and by building power through state-based organizing, we seek to reclaim the moral narrative and agenda, transform our nations political, social, ecological structures, and demand justice for all. This is not an organization this is a movement.”

(courtesy Kelley Hudlow)

By calling to attention the right to health and a healthy planet, Alabama’s PPC seeks to disrupt the accepted norm. Currently, Alabama ranks 45th in healthcare affordability, with 17 percent of adults going without care due to cost. Furthermore, the Yellowhammer State has a poverty rate of about 18.5 percent, with some counties as high as 40 percent, making adequate care an impossibility for many.

“Did you know medical debt is the number one cause of personal bankruptcy?” Rev. Foster asked rhetorically. She continued, calling for emotion. “We need to hear personal stories from our brother’s and sisters.”‘

Callie Greer, a regular speaker for the PPC, told Venus’s story:

“I am not the only mother that has had to bury a child because of lack of Medicaid expansion in this state. It’s immoral that I had to bury my baby. She had to be carried through the house because they would not approve her for breathing equipment so that she could take herself to the bathroom. I refuse to be quiet, while we continue to bury our children because of lack of insurance. Shame on you.”

Greer, speaks not only for those to remember Venus, but those like Venus who are suffering today. 

Laura Sherman, a pediatric intensive care nurse, also came forward to tell her story about a son afflicted with Down’s Syndrome and Autism.

“When my son was an infant, and he needed hearing aids the doctor tried to convince me that mothers throw them in the drawer, and don’t use them. These were going to be given to me by the state of Alabama for free,” she said. “I kept thinking, ‘What about the poor mother who doesn’t know she can speak up to this jerk? That she can say, ‘No, I want my child to have hearing aids.’ How many children did he deny hearing aids to?'”

Today, Laura’s son doesn’t require hearing aids, because he was able to receive them as an infant. 

Lastly, Curt Chaffin, a speaker from the Alabama River Alliance, came to discuss the relationship between health and a healthy environment:

“Water is life.In Colbert County, a population, living a stone’s throw away from a power plant, lives with the effects of pollution that made their well water undrinkable; they were afraid to eat from their gardens and fish from their ponds,” he paused. “In Uniontown and Lowndes County, sewage is getting into drinking water, with unbelievable costs to clean it up.[Alabama River Alliance] is fighting for clean water. We are trying to develop a statewide water plan; we are fighting for better water infrastructure, we are trying to work with communities that are affected by these problems.” 

Chaffin stepped down as the crowd began to sing a variation of the gospel song, “I Shall Not Be Moved.”

Shea Rives and Carole Giffin then led the procession to Dr. Sims statue, left of the capitol. Sims was considered the father of modern gynecology, a title that was stripped in most states.  Sims was a strong supporter of slavery, operating on slaves: Lucy, Anarcha, and Betsy. All underwent their procedures without anesthesia. Records show that Sims operated on Anarcha 30 times. Sims is just one of many Alabama memorials dedicated to antebellum Southern slave culture. 

The campaign moved forward up the capitol steps, posting a letter to the doors before turning around to march towards the Medicare office. Members of PPC carried a casket dedicated to those who died from a lack of healthcare. 

Moral witnesses of the Poor Peoples Campaign stayed behind, responding to Alabama’s celebration of Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ birth. Alabama is the only state to celebrate his birthday on June 3 by shutting down all major government functions.

(courtesy Kelley Hudlow)

Davis himself owned around 70 slaves and is known for saying, “African slavery exists in the United States, is a moral, a social, and a political blessing.”

On his birthday, moral witness shrouded Davis in white, drawing slits for eyes, likening him to a Ku Klux Klan member. Several individuals wrote, “Racist,” “Shame on you,” and “Take this statue down.”

Moral witnesses covered the statue in ketchup, symbolizing bloodshed, and tied themselves to his memorial. Police peacefully arrested those who defaced Davis’s figure; they were later released Monday evening. 


[U.S. News & World Report] [Alabama Possible] [New York Times] [Interesting Facts.TV] [AZ Quotes] [Photo courtesy Kelley Hudlow]