by Ann Garrison
The Democratic National Convention will convene in Milwaukee from July 13 to 16, and the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC) plans to be there. I spoke to PPEHRC founder and organizer Cheri Honkala of Philadelphia.
Ann Garrison: The name of the march, “Lives Over Luxury,” is self-explanatory, but what else would you like us to know about this year’s march now, five months in advance? What are your demands?
Cheri Honkala: Everything. We demand full control of our lives and everything that means – we want an end to violence at home and abroad. That means ending poverty, ending hunger, making sure the abundance of the world is actually used to keep people alive and spread the happiness. It means ending wars abroad that suck up trillions of dollars and kill the environment, and cause death and destruction all over the world. But sure, if you want it in a bullet form, we want to stop:
- the extinction of humanity and every other living creature on the planet,
- poverty and homelessness,
- community violence and police brutality,
- toxic threats to our food and water,
- and war.
AG: Although the PPEHRC is organizing and leading this, I’m sure you have partner organizations who’ll be there with you. Tell us about them and how you’re working together.
CH: We are trying to work with everyone and anyone who consider themselves freedom fighters and are building up our list of endorsements of antiwar groups, antipoverty groups, homeless unions, labor unions, faith institutions, LGBT and women’s organizations, disability groups, youth groups and anti-violence groups. We have the endorsement of Black Alliance for Peace, and we are working on endorsements from the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), the Green Party USA, chapters of the Green Party all across the country, and chapters of Black Lives Matter and the disability rights organization ADAPT.
AG: I see that you’ll be coordinating housing for marchers coming from out of town. Tell us something about how you’re organizing that and who people should contact if they want to come and need housing.
CH: They can contact us always at PPEHRCorg@gmail.com, text us at 215-869-4753 or contact us through facebook.com/PPEHRC or Instagram.com/PPEHRC. We are setting up a Trumpville in Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Milwaukee. People are welcome to join us at Trumpville with their tents as long as they are nonviolent. Drugs will not be allowed, and this will be a drug-free area.
We are setting up a Trumpville in Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Milwaukee. People are welcome to join us at Trumpville with their tents.
AG: You’ve also scheduled civil disobedience training on Sunday, July 12, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Do you have any specific actions planned?
CH: We’ve done it before and it’s time again to do coordinated housing takeovers all across the country. Much of the country can’t afford rent or housing, yet developers keep building and building more new condos and mansions.
And there’s enough abandoned property to house all the homeless people in the country. So let’s take those houses. Let’s take those spaces where human beings, mothers and children could live.
So we are doing a training on that, also a training on civil disobedience, and also ways for others to witness that if you don’t want to be arrested yourself. We need everyone, and there’s a place for everyone in this movement.
AG: You’re a member of the Green Party. In 2012, you were Jill Stein’s running mate, and the two of you were arrested together at least once, outside the presidential debates that you hadn’t been invited to at Hofstra University. There’s been a lot of talk within the Green Party this year about how it should relate to the Sanders campaign. Do you have any thoughts on that?
CH: Sanders is running in the Democratic Party. The Green Party will run their own candidates as they have in the past. They are two different things, with some overlap. They are both our audience, but we really believe everyone is our audience and our base.
People who voted for Trump, people who voted for Hillary, who will vote for Bernie or whomever – people who are part of a growing class of people who are throwaways, surplus people, whom the rulers don’t care about, who will be outsourced and downsized, who can’t afford to pay rent or pay for food or clothes or healthcare or education. This is us, this is a new class of people – the vast majority of society – who must take power to survive. If the Democrats steal the nomination, everyone is welcome to march with us in protest.
AG: After the 2016 Dem convention, Chris Hedges said that Bernie Sanders had one chance at making history that he didn’t rise to. He could have walked out of the convention, taken his delegates with him, and declared his intention to run as a third-party candidate. Of course he didn’t, but now he’s back with a far better organized, more robust campaign, with more volunteers than any other candidate, and once again he’s citizen funded, free of corporate contributions. Would you like to see him win the nomination, and would the PPEHRC campaign for him if he did?
CH: We are seeing the Democratic Party do anything they can to trip up his campaign again. Stopping the democratic process in Iowa and changing the debate rules for starters. It’s deja vu from last time.
There’s enough abandoned property to house all the homeless people in the country. So let’s take those houses.
Last time, Sanders didn’t walk out but we organized a walkout of a whole contingent of Sanders delegates. They joined us outside on the streets outside the Democratic National Convention. We will be there again, with the #LivesOverLuxury March, outside the DNC again. And we are for independent politics. We are for building power for ourselves. We welcome anyone to join us.
AG: And what if the DNC and the corporate Democrats rob him of the nomination again? Sen. Sanders himself has said that he’s in it to win it, but that if he doesn’t, he’ll back the Democrat who does.
CH: PPEHRC is against the system of corporate parties because they both support war and don’t care for the poor. When they are dropping bombs in other parts of the world, regardless of party, it is an attack on the poor and vulnerable. We are in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Haiti as much as we are with our brothers and sisters in Kensington, Philadelphia.
AG: Do you think, as I do, that “Bernie or Bust” is a more common resolve this year than it was in 2016? Quite a few people, including Black Agenda Report Editor Glen Ford and even New York Times opinion writer Elizabeth Bruenig are predicting that the left and right wings of the party will rend it asunder before this campaign season is through. Do you agree, and if so, do you have any thoughts as to what that might look like and where it would leave the PPEHRC?
CH: We are living in a society of contradiction. People are still considering when or how fascism will take hold, and yet no one disagrees there’s concentration camps on our borders and throughout the country. There’s blockchain identity being developed to keep track of people on public services. There’s patents on types of seeds and even on DNA! And no one disagrees that the billionaire class is growing at the same time that almost half the country makes about $15,000 a year.
We are the “greatest country in the world” but we can’t provide healthcare or jobs to our citizens? We have the ability to clothe, house and feed every human but we don’t? Why not? It’s important for organized people to drive home these contradictions. We are going to do this by the further development of the Poor People’s Army, because our resistance and survival are non-negotiable. The only way we can liberate ourselves is by moving away from the nonprofit industrial complex and building a movement led by poor people.
AG: Is there anything else you’d like to say?
CH: We are desperately seeking independent media, because at a crucial time in history, when everything is being funded by our enemy, and movement leaders are being bought off daily, our oppressors and the media they own are not going to fund or fight for our liberation.
We think it is really important that independent media lifts the voices of the poor in this country and pulls back the curtain to expose candidates who are taking money from corporations and the military industrial complex, so the people can know who is really leading our liberation struggles.
AG: Thanks for sharing your thoughts and information about the march, the PPEHRC, and the current political climate.
CH: You’re welcome. And we hope to see you in Milwaukee.
Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. Please support her work on Patreon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.