27th Annual Poor People’s Day Held at Georgia Capitol (UPDATE 1)
(APN) ATLANTA — “The rich are gettin richer on the backs of the poor, and we won’t take it anymore,” homeless advocate and folk singer, Lynn Griever, sang, at the Trinity United Methodist Church, as about 250 working class people and advocates met for the 27th Annual Poor People’s Day.
Participants met for two days of workshops and presentations, Wednesday, February 14, and Thursday, February 15, 2007, which culminated in a press conference and lobbying day at the Georgia Capitol.
“Raise the wage… Now!”, “$5.15 is not for me!”, and “What would [Governor] Sonny [Perdue] do on $5.15?… Nothing!” were some of the cheers shouted on the freezing cold morning on the steps of the Capitol. Earlier that morning had been a light snow.
Advocates demanded raising the minimum wage in Georgia to $7.25–the wage level which is also being advocated at the federal level–through the passage of SB 13, a bill currently in the State Senate. Raising the minimum wage in Georgia is necessary even though it is somewhat likely the federal minimum wage will be raised in the near future, advocates say, because not all workers are covered by the federal minimum wage but can, and should, be included by the state.
“Some of us have been co-conspirators of our oppression by accepting minimum wage,” Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, brother to former [and possible current] US Presidential candidate Rev. Al Sharpton, said in remarks to participants prior to the press conference.
“That’s our problem,” Glasgow said, “It’s not just our oppressors. They didn’t just come out of the clear blue sky. Some of us can be so philosophical talking with each other, but we’re scared of talking to the folks who are oppressing us.”
Griever offered a different, perhaps not inconsistent, analysis. “It’s hard to love those who have caused war, or who make it hard for us to live. But I think that’s what it’s gonna take for us to get through this.”
Many Georgia legislators were not available for the press conference or lobbying day because many were attending the funeral for US Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA), who was one of the most politically regressive Members of the US House.
As a result, a group of teenagers from working class backgrounds who went to State Sen. Hudgens’s Office–the Chairman of the Insurance and Labor Committee–ended up disappointed because all they could do was leave a petition with his Administrative Assistant, Leah Tatum-Dick.
Incidentally, Mr. Hudgens, among others, has announced his candidacy for late US Rep. Norwood’s seat according to press reports.
For many of the young advocates hoping to speak about minimum wage, it was their first time visiting the Capitol. “It could make me feel excited, but the way they just pushed us aside. We ain’t get no time to speak… [but] I’m gonna keep coming back,” Steyania Johnson, 18, said.
“It’s all about the money and how the money is divided,” Bobbie Paul, Executive Director of Atlanta Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), said. Paul showed her noted pop-up pie cart of the federal budget, which she uses several times a year in various demonstrations.
“We’re spending 11 million dollars a day in Iraq!” Paul said. “We’re being pitted against each other when there’s enough money to go around.”
“We’re here to ask the Georgia Senate to pass out of the Insurance and Labor Committee the minimum wage bill from $5.15 to $7.25,” Sandra Robertson, Executive Director of the Georgia Citizens’ Coalition on Hunger, said.
“The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute reports raising the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour would help an estimated 672,000 workers. Of these… 84% are 20 years or older,” Robertson said.
Written materials provided to Atlanta Progressive News by the Coalition on Hunger cite a report by the University of Georgia Survey Research Center in September 2006, indicating 90% of Georgia citizens support increasing the minimum wage.
There was last week, Wednesday afternoon, supposed to have been a 4pm Committee hearing on the state minimum wage bill in the State Senate. However, State Sen. Hudgens rescheduled the item to an 8am that day in order to have a quorum, or enough members present to take a vote, Tatum-Dick said. The bill’s sponsor, State. Sen. Robert Brown, then asked the item be heard on a different day altogether so all those testifying could be present, she said.
Two low wage workers did testify at the press conference, though.
“I’m a low wage worker. I put myself through school to be a certified nursing assistant. I’m not even making $7 per hour. I’m threatened with eviction and utilities being cut off and I’ve been working a long time,” April Johnson said.
“I work for a labor company, for between $5.15 and $6.15 an hour,” Irene Cole said.
Two State Representatives were present for the press conference, State Reps. Tyrone Brooks and Bob Holmes. Holmes has been an advocate of health care access in the State House for years.
“Don’t let them tell you what you’re doing is not effective. It does make a difference. You’re educating us legislators about what’s important. Go to the office, leave your agenda with a secretary, go to the meetings,” Rep. Brooks said.
“Georgia leaders need to recognize we need to [raise the minimum wage] on a timely basis. We need to bring this state into the 21st Century. Instead of thinking of tax cuts for the wealthy, we need to think of working people,” Rep. Holmes said.
“$5.15 is abhorrent, ridiculous, and unbelievable,” Robertson said.
CORRECTION: The original online article stated this was the 37th Annual Poor People’s Day; it is, in fact, the 27th.
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Matthew Cardinale is News Editor of Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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