Bringing Poor People Back to the Forefront on MLK Day

Denver, CO – On January 20, 1986, the first nationwide celebrations took place in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, nearly 20 years after his assassination at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. This year on the 35th annual celebration of Dr. King, the Colorado Poor People’s Campaign hosted a rally coinciding the city’s official rally to highlight how they believe “the legacy of Dr. King has been co-opted by capitalism and corporatism.”

Other groups co-hosting the rally are Denver Homeless Out Loud, Party for Socialism and Liberation, and Black Lives Matter 5280.

Watch the event below.

The first speaker at the rally was Ari from Black Lives Matter 5280 (BLM 5280) who reminded the crowd that just before MLK was assassinated, he and others “called for a unification of the poor.”

“They sought a radical redistribution of economic and political power through a kind of moral revival by force. And they issued this enormous rallying cry for capable hard workers to fight together against the dehumanization, discrimination, and poverty wages that have become characteristic of this country.” — Ari, BLM 5280

In part the alternative event was meant also to publicize a recent ruling that Denver’s camping ban is unconstitutional. The case cited the 8th amendment against cruel and unusual punishment, as well as, a 2018 decision from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals striking down a camping ban in Boise, Idaho.

In Denver there a few thousand people without permanent housing; some people experiencing houselessness choose to go into shelters and some don’t. Every night there are hundreds of people sleeping outside, but because of the camping ban, that is illegal to do.

During “sweeps” police officers and members of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (formerly public works) team up with a contracted privately-owned clean-up company. They travel to where individuals have set up outdoor communities with tents and other survival gear, and tell these people they need to move. Folks are usually given less than an hour to carry away all their belongings, or have them be stored by the city for 30 days.

If a person is unwilling or unable to move their belongings or allow them to be placed into temporary storage, the items are immediately thrown away into the trash truck which is always present at these sweeps. (From a recent class-action lawsuit agreement, which went into effect in late September 2019, the city needs to place written notices seven days before a large sweep.)

Despite the recent ruling, and a few others that have happened around the country over the past few years regarding the constitutionality of camping bans, the city of Denver has officially said they plan to ignore the ruling and continue sweeping people.

On MLK, Jr. day in Richmond, Virginia, there is an annual lobby day sponsored by Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights group with the goal “to root out every nugget of gun control it can detect in Virginia,” according to the group’s website. However this year since Governor Ralph Northam is attempting to pass stricter gun control laws, thousands of people gathered in Richmond today for a gun rights rally. A mixture of mainstream conservative individuals, more radical “militia”-type people, as well as people on the left side of the political spectrum converged on the capitol.

Local anti-fascist group Antifa Seven Hills has been outspoken about their opposition to the newly introduced gun laws. Although they mentioned in a blog post on their website that none of their members would be attending the massive rally, at least not in their group’s official capacity, they explained why they had been considering going:

“We think it is vital to de-platform and stem fascist and Nazi recruitment wherever possible and saw this as an important point to intervene. In addition, the impact that Nazi violence would undoubtedly have on surrounding vulnerable communities who are often the primary target of fascists, intervening between racists and more vulnerable groups remained a primary goal.” — Antifa Seven Hills

Their blog post was in response to a Vice article written about them, which Antifa Seven Hills says contains inaccurate information. The group addressed people who read the article and came to the conclusion that we are choosing to march with Neo-Nazis and Klansmen on Monday. This was and never will be the case. We are forever in opposition to these groups.”

Antifa Seven Hills also explained why they decided to be open in their opposition to the gun control measures.

“The left is just more complex than the new governing majority and the figurehead of Ralph Northam. That there are many not represented who want to retain the tools for self-defense without a greater risk, or pretense for state repression as much of this legislation seeks to do.” — Antifa Seven Hills

Martin Luther King, Jr. himself attempted to purchase a firearm after his house was firebombed in 1956, but was denied the ability due to gun control laws sponsored by the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Gun control was first seen after the civil war during a time period named “reconstruction,” when southern states passed Black Codes against newly freed slaves. Part of these codes took away former slaves’ right to bear arms.

Yet another example of leftists who are simultaneously proponents of armed self defense, Kim Kelly, an anti-fascist journalist, wrote in an op-ed for Vox in July 2019: “Right-wingers have held an unearned monopoly on gun culture for too long.”

“I’m interested in reclaiming the notion of armed self-defense from those who have long used it as a cudgel to repress dissent and terrorize marginalized communities, and emphasizing its potential as a transformative tool toward collective liberation.” — Kim Kelly

The organizers of today’s alternative rally in Denver for MLK Day focused on their belief, and Dr. King’s belief, that people should not be criminalized for doing what’s necessary for their survival and their community’s survival, including breaking laws that are believed to be unjust.

In 1967, one year before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech on being concerned with the war in Vietnam. In his “Beyond Vietnam” speech he remarked: “We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

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