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Phase One of Poor People's Campaign Finishes This Week

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

This week marks the end of the 40-day national Poor People’s Campaign. The program is a revival of the work done by Martin Luther King during the last months of his life.  

For six weeks, people in communities all over the U.S., such as Liz Moore in Spokane, have been holding rallies and drawing attention to issues such as poverty and racism. Moore is one of the three chairpeople for the Washington state Poor People’s Campaign. Last Thursday evening, she spoke at a gathering in the plaza next to Spokane City Hall.

“The goal of this 40 days, this season of moral resistance, is to shift the narrative so that instead of party-based talking points and Tweets being how we discuss what is wrong with this country, we can talk about the real lives of people surviving poverty, systemic racism, the war economy and ecological devastation," she said at a gathering of campaign volunteers in the plaza next to Spokane City Hall.

"That narrative is firmly entrenched. It is a hard thing to budge. We know for sure that if there were a bunch of, a small group of right-wing folks doing what’s been happening in 30 state capitals, it would be all over the news. Right? But it’s not the same. What it takes is what it always takes: persistence and guts and stick-to-itiveness and spine and feet and hands and hearts together,” Moore said.

For the last five Mondays, she has arranged road trips for Spokane people who wanted to participate in rallies on the state Capitol steps in Olympia.

“I particularly want to thank all the folks who have donated so we can provide gas money and so we can cover food stipends for folks that would not be able to participate otherwise. It’s your support, whether that’s donating $5 or $50, your support has meant that folks can be there in Olympia to speak their own stories that would not be able to be there otherwise,” she said.

Among those who spoke her story was Andrea Rose Gallardo. Drea Rose, as she’s known, is a Native and Latina woman who grew up in poverty on the Spokane Indian Reservation.

“I feel like I’ve been the voice for Native Americans in this Poor People’s Campaign. I just hope that we look out for the reservations too because the conditions growing up there…it’s hard," she said.

Drea Rose works with renters as part of an organization called the Tenants Union.

We’re advocates. We give information to tenants if they receive letters from their landlords that they don’t understand or they may not agree with and they don’t know what to do. We can counsel them and give them the right tools, the right forms to send their landlords," she said. "A lot of us don’t know our rights and we’re getting screwed over by landlords because we don’t know our rights and they know the law.”

She says people are worried about their lack of security.

“Poverty can happen to anybody. Everybody’s one accident, one incident away from poverty. I hear it all the time, stories where they got in a car wreck, had to miss work. That made them lose their job and then they can’t pay their rent. Boom, they’re on the streets. It’s a ripple effect. It could happen to anybody. Nobody’s really protected right now,” Rose said.

Another woman who has told her story in Olympia is Shelly McLallen. Recently McLallen lived three months in her car in Spokane, another six months in shelters. She blames her physical and mental disabilities for some of that. She credits her stay at the Union Gospel Mission with helping her to find a church, to meet other women in similar situations and to find some self-esteem she’d been lacking. For now, the trend in her life is up. But even that is fragile.

“Through Frontier Behavioral Health, I was able to get a Section 8 voucher and so I got a brand new apartment right down the street from my church. My cat and I are very happy there. I’ve been waiting two years and two months for disability to go through, so I’ve been living on $197 a month for a little more than a year,” McLallen said.

So how do you manage on that?

“You don’t," she said. "My rent is $100 a month because of the voucher. Right now it’s 50% of my income. My cat’s medicine is $35. Paying her food and cat litter, there’s nothing left for me. I love her so much that it’s worth it. The food banks in Spokane are great so it’s really hard to run out of food. I’ve been relying on people and friends for transportation because my car was stolen in March.”

What does the Poor People's Campaign mean to her?

“As I got to know the women at the shelter and I’ve met people that are sleeping out on the streets and I see the commonality that we all have. We’re all brave, funny, generous, courageous, giving people full of love," she said.

"One of the things I think is so poignant about being homeless is you spend a lot of your energy trying to be invisible, because you know you’re not wanted. At three o’clock in the morning, when you’re just trying to find a place to pee, and all the restrooms are locked to you, when you haven’t had gas money to go to a place to get a shower or food or anything and you’re just so low on energy and you’re scraggly and you feel gross, all you want to do is slink in and find a bathroom. You don’t want anybody to look at you,” McLallen said.

Does having a home now change the way you approach your life?

“Everything is so much easier now," she said. "I can take a shower whenever I want to. It’s great. I can go to bed. I can sleep if I get a cold. I can just stay in bed all day if I get a cold, right? When you’re homeless and you’re sick, you’re constantly moving. At a certain time of the day, you’re sort of allowed to be here. You can’t stay anywhere for too long. Now I can sit and I can do computer programming. I’m studying website design. I can make plans, I can prepare for the future.

"Now I’m going to be getting disability in July. Now I’m planning," she said. "I’ve got these tomato starts that I’ve been starting. I can put those on my balcony in a pot. I can take my cat to the vet. I can pay for a class just because I want to take that class. Oh my gosh, I’ll get to go out to eat, maybe once or twice a month. I haven’t been out to eat in so long. I’ll be able to buy toilet paper. I’m so happy about buying toilet paper and cat litter and the stupid stuff. I am looking forward to paying my stupid electric bill. I don’t like that SNAP energy has to pay my electric bill for me. I want to pay my own electric bill. I’m going to replace my car. I’ll have freedom.”

Shelly McLallen’s is one of thousands of stories of poverty of people in the Inland Northwest. She’s a participant in the Spokane version of the Poor People’s Campaign.

At least one, maybe more Spokane residents will travel to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on June 23 for a “Stand Against Poverty Rally and Moral Revival.”

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