Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Resurrection City 2.0

Yesterday, on my way home from my regular check-up downtown with my doctor, I stopped by the Occupy Vancouver site to see how everybody was doing and to put in some volunteer time. OV was a bustling place to say the least with many tasks being carried out, food being prepared, tents being reinforced or expanded, music, and lots of discussions, random and facilitated, about the nature of community. While I was looking around, somebody said that I looked lost; overwhelmed was more like it. Someone else passed us mentioning that Martin Luther King, Jr. had virtually pioneered the idea of the poor and struggling occupying civic space to call attention to their demands. "Oh, right, Resurrection City," I answered. He nodded in agreement.

Although there were many precedents (the Bonus Army of World War I veterans occupying the front lawn of the White House during the Great Depression to demand government relief and benefits, for example), King's Poor People's Campaign is great template for what we're seeing unfold all over North America and the world. King had come out against the Vietnam War in 1967, in particular, its enormous diversion of resources, financial and otherwise, away from domestic anti-poverty programs. This put him at odds with many, including some of the other civil rights leaders and the Johnson administration. In early 1968, King threw his support behind various anti-poverty initiatives and became involved with the Memphis garbage workers strike. He also traveled through Mississippi, planning for a poor people's march on Washington that spring; he never lived to see it.

However, the march happened that May and the marchers set up camp near the Washington Monument where they remained until mid-June; Senator Robert Kennedy's funeral procession made a stop there on the way to his interment. During the month, that Resurrection City was set up, there were demonstrations in front of various government buildings including the Department of Agriculture. The campaign also put forward an economic bill of rights in which it asked for the federal government to prioritize helping the poor with a $30 billion anti-poverty package that included a commitment to full employment, a guaranteed annual income measure and more low-income housing.

Ultimately, the tumult of that year, the assassinations of two civil rights leaders in particular, demoralized the movement and it began to disintegrate. Then the encampment's residents were warned to leave. Resurrection City was bulldozed in mid-June. The Poor People's Campaign continued its advocacy throughout a very long, hot summer, marching through the Republican convention in Miami and the cataclysmic Democratic convention in Chicago. Many think it failed.

Many think the Occupy movement will fail too. When faced with this belief, it helps to remember a quote from Dr. King:

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it always bends towards justice."

No comments:

Post a Comment