Groups Protect Economic Human Rights
“There are millions of people in this country who have very little, or even nothing to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life.”
These words, spoken by Martin Luther King Jr., lie at the heart of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, which has united over 70 grassroots organizations under the mission of economic human rights.
On Thursday, March 23, Cheri Honkala, national coordinator for the PPEHRC, came to Oberlin to speak about the campaign and generate interest in PPEHRC events that will take place in Oberlin and Cleveland this summer. She was joined at the speech by other local grassroots organizers.
“There was a good turnout,” said sophomore Daniel Gillespie, who helped bring Honkala to Oberlin. “A lot of people showed up and were excited about it.”
Gillespie became interested in the PPEHRC this January through an internship he had with the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, a Philadelphia-based organization that Honkala founded before the PPEHRC.
“The fact that poor people are creating organizations for themselves got me really excited,” said Gillespie.
Oberlin students have been involved with the PPEHRC in various capacities since it began. Heather West, OC ’97, co-founded the North Olmsted-based group The Deaf and Deaf-Blind Committee on Human Rights, an organization that is a member of the PPEHRC.
Students like Gillespie have held internships with the campaign or related organizations and want to bring the activism to Oberlin. Gillespie, working with organizations in town such as the Immigrant Worker Project, is involved with bringing a leadership school for leaders of poor people’s organizations throughout the country to Oberlin this summer.
“I want to help make sure that Oberlin brings in more voices from our own community, and make sure that perspective is represented at our college,” said Gillespie.
Officially founded in 1998, the PPEHRC describes itself as “committed to unite the poor across color lines as the leadership base for a broad movement to abolish property.” Some of the diverse groups affiliated with the project include the Missouri-based Jesus People Against Pollution, the Philadelphia Center and the Washington, DC-based Youth Action Research Group.
The PPEHRC has been involved with a variety of actions since it was founded, including leading marches against the Republican National Convention in August 2004. In addition, the PPEHRC works to enable small groups with little funding to network and support each other.
In addition to the leadership school Gillespie is helping to organize, the
PPEHRC will be organizing the National Truth Commission in Cleveland this
summer. At the three-day event, poor people from across the nation will give
testimonials of economic human rights abuses to a panel of international
commissioners. The Commission operates on the belief that these rights abuses
are violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document created
by the United Nations in 1948.