New York

Strollers, Wheelchairs Roll in Safety

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41ST STREET AND 1ST AVENUE, 4 P.M.–“We need you to join the march! Women and children first!” Invoking the incontrovertible moral authority of individuals–homeless people, poor single mothers and their children, the deaf, the disabled, the elderly–who lead their lives on the margins, Cheri Honkala’s
Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign managed a peaceful permitted rally and a remarkable unpermitted
march this afternoon.

“There’s no reason we can’t end poverty right now,” said PPEHR member Mary Shoemaker, summarizing today’s message.

The rally lasted nearly two hours as organizers, behind the scenes, negotiated with police for the right to march. What seemed like the leader of every one of PPEHR’s (“peeper’s”) dozens of coalitions nationwide–mostly women community organizers of color–spoke, along with many clergy members, while around the plaza there were performances by the Missile Dick Chicks, spoken word, and drumming. Finally, around 5:40 p.m., Honkala, the electrifying presence at the center of PPEHR, rallied the crowd to march with the following invocation: “We are peaceful people and we practice nonviolence, because we are tired of the violence in the world.”

The front line of the march was composed of elderly women in wheelchairs and children in strollers. Police blocked off a lane of traffic, guarding the marchers with a line of bikes, while the march of perhaps a few thousand people was escorted by a single police van, usually used to transport prisoners, traveling at 5 mph with the back doors open. PPEHR marshals linked arms to control the curbside of the march, prompting praise from a police captain: “You’re better than cops! Keep it up! Way to go!”

I was interested to notice many people from Thursday’s DNC2RNC march showing up to this one. Superficially the coalitions are very different–one typified by Marion Kramer, a middle-aged African American woman who organizes welfare mothers in Detroit, and the other by Cory Fischer-Hoffman, a 21-year-old student at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Yet both walked hundreds of miles to get to New York City this week; and both are working for a world radically different from the existing political order, so far out that it’s hard for most people to even imagine.