Poor Families Demand Change from Obama

Jeff Rousset

Protesters shut down street to call for a national freeze on foreclosures

On January 28th, the morning after President Obama’s first State of the Union address, over 50 people organized by the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC), most of them poor, shut down a busy stretch of Market Street to call for change.

The block in front of the Federal Building was shut down for over an hour as people demanded more affordable housing from the federal government and real solutions to the housing crisis. Last year a record 2.8 million homes in the United States were foreclosed. This year millions more are expected to follow. In the President’s address  on, Wednesday, January 27th, he made no mention of foreclosures, instead announcing a massive spending freeze that would largely cut social services for people in need, while continuing to spend billions on wars. As a heavy police presence watched closely, the protesters called on the federal government not to freeze services, but freeze foreclosures.

Numerous community groups joined the PPEHRC, including Kensington Welfare Rights Union, Disabled in Action, New Jerusalem, Penn Haven, and Food Not Bombs.

One week earlier, Penn Haven, a student group at the University of Pennsylvania, organized a tent city on campus in solidarity with homeless people and to raise awareness about the housing and foreclosure epidemic. A number of folks from PPEHRC spoke at the tent city, along with students and religious leaders.

Also, a week before the action PPEHRC member organizations converged on the Federal Building in San Francisco, California to call for more affordable housing and a freeze on foreclosures. Over 400 people came out in the rain to participate in that action.
One year into Obama’s presidency people are increasingly aware that the president’s campaign promises will not be kept. While the rhetoric is more soothing, his policies resemble those of his predecessor. People are accepting that their only hope for change lies in their own creative struggles to transform a political and economic system that benefits the wealthy and preys upon the poor and the rest of the population.

The PPEHRC is building a national multiracial movement to end poverty, led by the poor. The campaign draws inspiration from the last years of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, when he focused on building a “nonviolent army” to target the structural causes of poverty. Across the country PPEHRC is not only using nonviolent civil disobedience to pressure the government for more just legislation, but is also moving homeless people into abandoned homes – meeting people’s most basic survival needs.