Topeka As the state of Kansas heads into the 2018 election season, several dozen people rallied at the Statehouse Monday, trying to raise awareness about a whole host of issues that confront poor people in the United States — issues that they say should be at the center of a national discussion.
Calling it the "Poor People's Campaign," the activists invoked the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., who started a campaign by the same name in 1968 shortly before he was assassinated.
Organizers said similar rallies were planned in at least 40 state capitols around the country Monday.
"Because somebody is hurting our people, and it has gone on far too long," said Rev. Rose Schwab, pastor of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Johnson County, recalling the lyrics of a 1960s-era protest song.
According to Census Bureau estimates, there were roughly 40 million Americans, or 12.7 percent of the population, living below the poverty line in 2016. But that figure was actually down from 14.8 percent two years earlier.
Still, speakers at the rally spoke about the challenges facing those who continue to live in poverty, challenges that range from accessing health care and education to the increased risk of being incarcerated or losing their children through the child welfare system.
Janae "Justice" Gatson, an organizer for the groups Reale Justice Network and Social Justice Doulas International, said she was part of an effort over Mother's Day weekend to raise money to post bail for black mothers being held in jails awaiting trial in Wyandotte County and Jackson County, Mo.
"Women who are sitting in the lockup and cannot afford the $300 fee to get out end up staying in the lockup," she said. "They risk losing their children. Social services will come, and does come take their children, if you didn't know that. The other thing is, no employer is going to stand you being away from that job for more than a day."
The protesters released a long list of actions they want political leaders to take, such as expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and fully funding services to treat people with mental health issues and other disabilities.
Organizers of the event said the rallies Monday are just the kickoff to "40 days of nonviolent direct action and voter mobilization," although those at the Topeka rally did not say specifically what actions they are planning.
At the end of the 40 days, on June 23, the advocates from Kansas and other participating states say they will rally again at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.