By Josh Breslin
I have already mentioned that sometimes in this profession you get assignments that you are clueless about or don’t care about. That is not the case here as I asked, no begged editor Greg Green for the assignment after I had already attended a few meetings of the National Committee that was putting together a 50th anniversary edition of the Poor Peoples Campaign which was either stillborn or destroyed in 1968 after Doctor King, the originator of the ideas and program had been killed. Sadly, poverty, poverty among blacks and poor whites is still with us and a national disgrace in such a well-fixed country and so those 50 years ago ideas still had some echo power in 2018.
I should say that it was not by happenstance that I had attended the first National meetings down in Washington. I had been tipped off that a movement was aborning by my friends from Veterans Peace Action Sam and Ralph who had been delegated by their National organization to represent that group in the preliminary meetings to see what actions if any VPA would take in support of the efforts. As a result of those first meetings and wondering about the first PPC’s fate I had done a far among of research about 1968 and why the terms “stillborn” and “destroyed” were the only ones I had been able to find to describe what had happened back then. Although I had heard about some of the stuff, mainly the constant rainy weather that swamped the camps and made life miserable for the refugees there I had been in California with others living off the glow of the Summer of Love, 1967 on Captain Crunch’s converted yellow school bus zooming up and down the Pacific Coast Highway under a very different sign-drug, sex and rock and roll.
The 2018 PPC set its sights at a higher level at least on paper with the understanding that this was a long-term hard ass project with plenty of chances to succeed-and fail. The main thing though was to get some major coverage of the six weeks of actions planned for the May-June period. That is what Sam and Ralph tried to hammer home to VPA and other organizations like Code Pink who had bought into the idea, bought into the first stage of the campaign. Once people were committed to organizing around specific issues related to poverty and why then the planned events made sense, made sense to me as well standing on the sidelines. I wish things had gone as easily as the ease with which the plan was set up with that finale in Washington bring home “the bacon.”
Ralph and Sam and other cadre from Veterans Peace Action and Veterans for Peace had been assigned to coordinate week three of the themed actions-the war economy and by extension its harmful and neglectful effects on the struggle against poverty. Taking a ton of material and social resources away to be pissed away on wasteful military junk. Both VPA and VFP had already signed onto a long-term project on the MIC led by Code Pink among others beyond the PPC goals so this was right from the get go. Since by design the actions were to take place in major cities over Memorial Day weekend extending into the following Tuesday by state capital actions from gathering petitions to acts of civil disobedience the natural event that came to mind almost automatically was an encampment, encampments.
Encampments had been a way of life for many political movements involving veterans from the old day national encampments of the Grand Army of the Republic which fought and bled to keep the Republic and abolish slavery to boot to the Bonus marchers in the early Great Depression days of the 1930s suppressed by General “Dug-Out Doug” MacArthur to the various veteran actions against the madness of the Vietnam War which almost ripped the country apart. Ralph and Sam, some of the cadre had cut their teeth on such events. Although this cohort was charged with coordinating the national actions they personally were to set up camp on Boston Common on Memorial Day along with whoever else wanted to go tenting. Such events on the historic Common require a permit and one of the lawyers arranged to get the permission to stage the event from noon until about 6PM.
What the lawyers, what nobody knew except the group around Sam and Ralph and those who had volunteered to stay was that they planned to stay overnight in order to both make their war economy message points and to be ready to “storm” the State House just up the road with petitions calling on the Massachusetts government to break with the MIC, particularly locally based Raytheon. Needless to say, staying in a major public space in downtown Boston overnight was a no-no. What Ralph in particular wanted was a “confrontation” over the issue on Memorial Day pitting veterans, many of them having seen the face of war, and the city officials although in reality the police. And they almost got their wish as some lower police commander had ordered paddy wagons and extra cops to take the encampment down like they had done several years previously at Occupy over on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Swish, that commander was gone and cooler heads prevailed by a decision to ignore the transgression as long as there was nothing disorderly to have to do something about. But it was a close thing, very close indeed.
Ralph was pissed off a little since he saw the publicity value in the exercise. Still the next day he got his action, arrested for civil disobedience for “overstaying” the visit to the State House when the police wanted to close the doors.
For those in the know, maybe the clueless, no, non-observant, this war economy and its tentacles is a massive monster many years in the making. Groups like VFP and VPA are batting their heads against some very strong and entrenched interests like Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed just to name the big guns. You battle as best you can on any front that makes sense from politely asking Congresspeople to stop voting for the endless war budgets to standing out in some desolate rain-swept corner drawing attention to what is happening inside some defense plant to acts of civil disobedience to make a point either at some State House or as the brethren up in Bath Maine have been doing blocking entrances on the increasing number of days when new ultra-weapon laden destroyers are christened.
All the way arguing for the conversion of those facilities into some more environmentally, socially and economically useful purposes to keep those workers more gainfully employed.