The Poor People’s Campaign

by Tom Ellis

ALBANY, NY: Joe Paparone of the Labor-Religion Coalition of NYS and former Albany Common Council member Vivian Kornegay spoke about The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Renewal (PPC), at the April 18 SPB dinner.

Joe described himself as a sax player but not a singer, and works on immigration issues.. He said people in forty states are participating in PPC. He frequently quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., and said Rev. King sought to make links between issues when he launched a 1968 PPC. Joe insisted that “we can’t keep tweaking things one at a time” but must instead, like a music sound board with hundreds of knobs, carefully tune it to produce beautiful sounds.

He said Memphis is still one of the poorest US cities today, as it was in 1968, and many problems are actually worse today than then, one being voting rights. He said the new PPC is not a commemoration of Dr. King, nor is it a reaction to President Trump, or a partisan issue.

Vivian Kornegay also quoted MLK saying “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” She observed that she was the only person of color present at the dinner and said multiple environmental health crises in Albany are proof of the need for PPC. Speaking about the oil trains at the Port of Albany a few feet from the Ezra Prentice Homes, she said, “What they don’t want, they impose on us. They lie to us.”

Other concerns are the proposed (1) Lincoln Park sewage treatment facility and (2) the Sheridan Hollow fracked gas power plant. She said, “I am ashamed how we treat each other. I am proud to be an American. Why do children at Giffen elementary school drink water with lead in it? We get attacked because we are poor and minorities.”

She said, “I suffer with asthma. Children from the South End go to emergency rooms at far higher rates than in the 13th and 15th wards. Speak to your neighbors. Each one teach one. We must rid Albany of diesel trains and poisoned school water.” The PPC unites many campaigns including housing, poisoned water, segregation, and opposition to the sewage treatment plant near the TOAST school.

Vivian congratulated Sandy Steubing for “sticking with PAUSE” and said, even years ago, the diesel fumes from idling box trains at the Port of Albany were a problem. She said, “I thank all of you for your interest in this fight. Together we are better. What happens to one of us happens to all of us.”

Joe continued. He asked, “What does unity mean? What keeps us divided? At the PPC, we do not presume unity. Unity is a process. We are trying to build a shared analysis. Maintaining unity is a key piece.”

He said, “Four million families in the US can’t get lead free water but you can get lead free paint and gasoline.” Regarding water contamination, he said “The same elites oppress Hoosick Falls and Albany residents.” He asked, “What does it mean to be poor? Who are the working class? We have a shrinking middle- and working-class and an excluded class.”

“Since 1977,” he said, “peak federal aid for infrastructure has dropped 74 percent and the US military is a major contributor to climate change. “Military recruiters are not at Guilderland and Niskayuna High Schools; they’re at Middletown. Analyze the connection between recruitment and poverty.”

He asked, “How will we address all these crises?” and said “No political party will save us.”

Joe said PPC will be forty days of nonviolent activism, “we don’t have any power to make these demands and we will withdraw consent to the status quo. Each Monday for forty days, we will have coordinated actions in forty state capitals, and “what we want is not even politically possible today.” He predicted the 2018 PPC would be the largest civil disobedience in history and said “My invitation to you is to be a part of this. We’re expecting people from around the state to block entrances to the state capitol. Everyone will be trained.”

Vivian urged listeners to go to and sign the pledge. She identified specific upcoming trainings. Joe said he hoped many people would join the PPC once it gets rolling. “Go to the Albany Common Council and Albany County Legislature,” Vivian pleaded. “Talk to them. Talk to elected officials. We hired them. They work for us.”

During the questions and comments, Vivian was asked about the proposed Lincoln Park sewage treatment facility. She responded saying the city only spoke to one (Hudson Park) neighborhood association, She mentioned an upcoming meeting that has now occurred, said she does not want the facility, and neither the Mansion nor Delaware Avenue neighborhood associations were consulted.



Published in June-July 2018 Save the Pine Bush Newsletter