By Michael Aldrich and Jordyn Pair
The (Nashville) Tennessean, June 5, 2018
Twenty protesters from the Poor People’s Campaign were arrested Monday outside the governor’s office, according to the campaign. The protest was the campaign’s fourth consecutive protest over the past few weeks.
The Poor People’s Campaign is a grassroots movement with a broad platform that fights against systemic racism, economic inequality, environmental concerns and the overall moral state of the nation. The campaign is currently hosting a “40 Days of Moral Action” movement, with a mass rally in Washington, D.C., on June 23. Monday’s Nashville protest was part of more than 30 similar protests across the nation.
The Tennessee chapter has marched each Monday since May 14, focusing on a different topic each week and engaging in civil disobedience. Metro Nashville Police arrested 20 protesters last week and 21 people on May 21.
The protest began on the steps of the legislative plaza in downtown Nashville, where a group of around 50 people sang rally songs and gave speeches about health care and maintaining the environment.
The ecological arm of the movement’s platform includes a focus on renewable energy, fully-funded public water and sanitation, and protection of public lands, as well as bans on environmentally-dangerous mining of resources.
The protest is about “right to health and healthy environment,” said Beth Foster, 44, tri-chair of the Tennessee Poor People’s Campaign.
“It’s time the people be taken care of,” Foster said. “It is an honor to be able to do what we can.”
The weekly protests are part of the “40 Days of Moral Action,” a movement designed to shift national discussion away from issues like homosexuality and abortion — issues Foster calls “private, individual choices,” — and toward problems like systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and ecological degradation.
“I think anybody who’s honest with themselves will know that these are immoral issues,” Foster said.
Foster has attended all three previous protests and been arrested twice.
Joe Fennell, 32, a freelance landscaper, said legislators need to support common people, not just the wealthy.
“We’re trying to communicate the message that lawmakers need to start putting Tennesseans first. Too many times they’ve handed out massive subsidies to big corporations while poor neighborhoods crumble,” Fennell said. “They’ll hear us in the streets, hear us in the courts or hear us in the voting booth.”
Fennel said he’d attended all four Nashville protests, but had only been arrested once.
Members of the Poor People’s Campaign say issues like health and being environmentally conscious are interconnected.
Amy Pragnell, 47, is especially passionate about people having access to fresh food.
“Being a chef, I understand food can be affordable,” Pragnell said.
Pragnell said densely urban and rural areas can struggle with food deserts, where there is a lack of accessible grocery stores with fresh food.
“Having affordable as well as accessible food for people all over is important,” Pragnell said. “Especially with children, they need affordable and accessible food.”
Pragnell said she did not plan to partake in the civil disobedience portion of the protest.
But she still supported their efforts.
“My heart will always be arrested with these people,” she said.
At 3 p.m., the crowd — carrying buckets of dirt, gardening tools and plants — moved to a patch of lawn down the street to create a “people’s garden.” A group of around twenty people spread the dirt out on the lawn and placed the plants in it.
A group of police stood by, although no arrests were made at the time.
The group then moved to the capitol building to attempt to see the governor. They were turned away at the office door.
Chants of “everybody’s got a right to live” and “everybody in, nobody out” echoed in the halls as roughly 35 members of the campaign sat outside the governor’s office.
“It’s a working office,” said Highway Patrol Trooper Brandon Smith, 35, who was part of a small group of troopers guarding the door. “They have to make an appointment to see the governor.”
The group then continued to chant and speak out on health care.
‘We’re all going to die,” Carol Paris, the president of the Physicians for a National Health Program, told the group. “We don’t need to die unnecessarily.”
Paris then asked if anyone had a “health care story to share.”
Tennessee state troopers told the group they had to leave the building when it closed at 4:30 p.m. They told protesters anyone who remained would be arrested.
Pragnell said it can be difficult to tell if legislators are even listening.
“There are few that do,” she said. “I can say that with confidence.”