Resurrection City Participant Considers Current Poor People’s Campaign
Learn more about the original 1968 Resurrection City in Poor People’s Campaign: City of Hope. It is an important time to remember that history with the new Poor People’s Campaign recently kicking off 40 days of actions to put morality at the center of US political discourse and with the Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign planning a march to DC and a Resurrection City in June. We should learn what we can from the original experience. The article below is by a physician who participated in the 1968 encampment and who is also involved with Indigenous peoples in Arizona. KZ
Indigenous People Should Play an Important Role in the Poor People’s Campaign
Fifty years ago, I was a scientist-physician head of a Section in a research laboratory in the National Institutes of Health at Bethesda, Maryland. In the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr’s terrible murder, I took moments from my work to stare from the seventh-floor windows at the billowing smoke of the fires on the streets of the District. My children and grandchildren now live in that area.
That year I was also an attending physician at D.C. General. This maintained my academic and physician skills. I supervised and taught the staff on one of the wards. I have always maintained that medical contact with poverty. Gradually that clinical experience plus my childhood experience and some post graduate public health education has at least partly saved me from class isolation and given me some understanding of people who live in poverty. Accompaniment and service are ways that can bring humility and break down the prevalent ideas that economically poor people lack rich culture and social wealth.
A call went out for medical help when the mule drawn Poor Peoples Campaign came to the Washington Mall. It was cold and wet weather and their tents and shacks soon were surrounded by mud as well as government hostility. I went to meetings at one of the D.C. churches that was trying to help the marchers. Nurses and doctors then organized a clinic to serve the Poor Peoples Campaign. The D.C. Health Department provided a trailer and we helped staff it. I saw some of the tough people who were the amazing participants of the long march.
They were very strong people and fortunately there were only minor health issues such as “colds” and foot irritations. My deeply moving experience was to see the Washington Mall filled with African-American and other activists living in poverty conditions. They were on the ground in front of the statue of Abraham Lincoln. The cold rains and action turned the ground into deep mud. My memory is strong of the mud and walking on planks to the makeshift and somewhat dismal clinic.
Now, many years later, the Poor Peoples Campaign is being resurrected. Another attempt is flinging itself at the government, the churches, and the entire American society — still divided by class. Poverty has largely become normalized in America. The minds of most have become inured to inadequate food, housing and health care for millions of us. We certainly must have not only a national call, but also national change — to be morally revived and eliminate systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and ecological devastation.
My wife Jane and I have attended events at Oak Flat in the last three years. We have been mostly observers, but the Apache people have opened their spirits to us. I have been “blessed” and learned some of the spiritual means by which they encounter the impending destruction of another part of themselves and in fact, ourselves — the Oak Flat ancient trees and historic land.
Indigenous People are mostly living in poverty and oppression. The vicious aggression of the Arizona senators has again used our government to trick the people. The politicians slipped some sentences into a huge military appropriation bill. That gave a huge piece of sacred land to foreign mining corporations clearly in return for support they receive. Already they, the politicians and the corporations, are drilling, depleting the water and polluting a huge area in preparation to sink the sacred ground of Oak Flat and the federal campground into a pit.
Some of us sense a small beginning of change in the complex dynamics of the class system and ethics in the United States. It is amazing to feel that some of this comes from an increasing awareness of the positive influence of Native American “values” and recognition of the true history of the First Nations. I feel it as a basic awareness of the “oneness” of the earth and us. Will this continue to grow? Will it be strong and soon enough? Will the Poor Peoples Campaign help us to save our humanity?