By TOM FOREMAN Jr
Activists converged on state capitals around the U.S. on Monday to begin six weeks of non-violent protests calling for new programs to help the millions of Americans who live in poverty, an overhaul of voting rights laws and other social change.
Reports by police from seven state capitols and Washington, D.C., showed more than 200 people had been arrested or cited during the first day of the so-called Poor People's Campaign. In many instances, police said protesters were cited for blocking traffic. In Washington, the two leaders of the campaign were among the protesters arrested outside the U.S. Capitol. Campaign leaders said the protests would cover 35 states.
A statement from the campaign said the Rev. William Barber and the Rev. Liz Theoharis, its two co-chairmen, were among those arrested outside the U.S. Capitol for standing in the middle of a street. Police had no immediate confirmation of arrests there or a specific number of those stopped.
"We're living in an impoverished democracy," Barber said. "People across the country are standing up against the lie of scarcity. We know that in the richest country in the world, there is no reason for children to go hungry, for the sick to be denied health care and for citizens to have their votes suppressed. Both parties have to be challenged - one for what it does and one for what it doesn't do."
Barber is a North Carolina minister and former president of the state NAACP chapter. Theoharis is co-director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice in New York.
In Missouri, 88 people were issued summonses in Jefferson City for obstructing a lawful police order to move after they blocked a downtown street. Police in Raleigh, North Carolina, led off 49 people after they walked out into the street in front of the legislative building, held hands and refused to depart until each was taken away and cited.
Officers cited 10 protesters at the Iowa Capitol who gathered in and around the staff offices of Gov. Kim Reynolds when they refused to leave the building at the close of business hours.
The campaign cast the protests as a "reignition" of the Poor People's Campaign, the 1968 movement started by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others to challenge racism, poverty and militarism. According to the campaign, protesters will spend the next 40 days engaged in nonviolent action, including the mobilization of voters and holding teach-ins.
The first teach-in is scheduled for Tuesday in Washington. It is to feature Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund and a part of the 1968 campaign.
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