More arrests at Kansas Statehouse as Poor People’s Campaign wraps up 6 weeks of rallies, civil disobedience

photo by: Peter Hancock

Rachel Shivers, one of the organizers behind the six-week Poor People's Campaign in Kansas, talks with a participant in the final rally outside the Statehouse, Monday, June 18, 2018. The campaign has focused on broad range of social justice issues that demonstrators said are particularly harmful to people in poverty.

TOPEKA — An organization calling itself the “Kansas Poor People’s Campaign” wrapped up its six-week series of demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience in Topeka.

Eleven participants were arrested for staging what law enforcement officials said was an “unlawful assembly.” They had tried to enter the Statehouse, but they were blocked from doing so by Kansas Highway Patrol troopers and Capitol Police officers who said they did not have a permit to be in the building.

Dozens more who stood outside around the public entrance to the building were told they, too, would be subject to arrest if they did not leave the Statehouse grounds.

Organizers said the permit they were issued to meet inside the Statehouse was recently revoked, reportedly due to the “commotion” they had caused during previous rallies.

On June 4, 16 protesters were arrested after they staged a sit-in in a hallway outside the governor’s ceremonial office.

The six-week campaign has targeted more than 30 state capitals around the country, with rallies focusing on a vast array of issues that organizers say disproportionately affect the poor — from income inequality and funding for anti-poverty programs to voting rights, LGBT rights, police brutality, gun control and what protesters called the “militarization” of American society.

But it was also an agenda that was so broad in its scope that it seemed at times to lack any kind of focus or direction.

“Kind of like a shotgun instead of a rifle,” said Rachel Shivers, one of the organizers of the rallies, who said she has heard the criticism too.

“I think that this campaign was intentionally recklessly broad,” she said. “Because the intention has been to draw in as many different people who are disenfranchised in one way or another, to help us identify each other and realize that we need to link arms with each other in order to create the political power that we need to advocate for each other.”

The rallies have drawn media attention, primarily because of the civil disobedience actions that have resulted in multiple arrests. So far, however, they have not concentrated on mobilizing people to engage in specific actions such as registering to vote or volunteering with organizations that are active in trying to address social justice issues.

But Shivers said that will change when the campaign goes into its next phase.

Following Monday’s demonstration, she said, a delegation from the Kansas Poor People’s Campaign will travel to Washington, D.C., to link up with national organizers and other state-level campaigns for a week of training and actions leading up to a rally at the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, June 23.

Following that, Shivers said, the campaign will enter a second phase that will focus on more specific political engagement.

“Those trainings are going to be focused on preparing the state-level teams and organizers with those much more concrete next steps and next wave of action that are going to be much more focused on things like voter registration and direct community organizing around specific issues,” she said.