MLK Lobby Day: Making our voices heard

In late 2005, Marcy Bowers, now Director of Solid Ground’s Statewide Poverty Action Network, was hired as a Community Organizer to support their first-ever MLK Lobby Day event. Ten years later, this large gathering of people from all over Washington state is still going strong, mobilizing hundreds of people living on low incomes and their allies to come together in Olympia on MLK Day to advocate with their state senators and representatives, and to promote change during the legislative session.

Members of District 33 at Poverty Action’s Activist Space photobooth.

Members of District 33 at Poverty Action’s Activist Space photobooth.

In keeping with the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Lobby Day is scheduled on his day of honor in hopes of stimulating action for social, racial and economic justice. Since it is a legal holiday, a greater number of working adults can attend than might on a typical work day.

Lobby Day is comprised of about six hours of speeches, advocacy training, and an “Activist Space”/photobooth where people can share their stories through photos and postcard writing. In the afternoon, participants fan out on the Capitol Campus for meetings with their own district legislators. This year, roughly 200 attendees participated in 90 meetings, with about 30 of Washington’s 49 districts represented. Community Organizer Davíd Reyes scheduled these meetings in advance of the event so that participants had the chance to make their voices heard with decision makers in their home districts.

200 participants gathered at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Olympia to advocate for change during meetings with their legislators.

200 participants gathered at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Olympia to advocate for change during meetings with their legislators.

Before Lobby Day, the Poverty Action Board – comprised of a majority of people of color and people living on low incomes from all over the state – hosts listening sessions with members from across the state to establish the themes they will primarily advocate for throughout the legislative session. This year’s priorities included:

  • criminal justice reform through reduction or elimination of Legal Financial Obligations
  • a greater Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant
  • consumer protections against predatory lending and debt services

Lobby Day connects the public policies that shape the framework of our society and the individuals affected by it. Citizens who advocate for change on Lobby Day bring a personal face and story to the issues that most affect them – and by meeting with their lawmakers, they can see firsthand how their voice can make a significant impact, which can result in real changes. The event creates an indescribable sense of solidarity as individuals bond together as a community for the day.

Community Relations & Development Manager Roshni Sampath has been involved in Lobby Day activities for several years. Through the photographs staged in the Activist Space, she has watched families returning with their children growing older and more passionate as time passes on. Other moments captured this year are shown in the slideshow below.

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After Lobby Day, participants can continue to make their voices heard through the SPEAK project, as well as attending hearings in Olympia. It is important to not let the feeling of empowerment that Lobby Day imparts on attendees and supporters alike fade. Rather, we should build upon the energy from the legislative meetings, positive interactions and comradery between the districts to effect both immediate and long-term changes for Washington state’s low-income families and communities.

For more information about current issues, see Poverty Action’s 2015 Legislative Agenda online. And throughout the legislative session, you can stay in touch with legislative priority progress by signing up to receive their Network News, following their social media on Facebook and Twitter, or via their website.

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Days of Action, Advocacy and Accountability

Gordon McHenry, Jr. with his son Austin, MLK Day 2014

Gordon McHenry, Jr. with his son Austin, MLK Day 2014

January 15th is the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I spent the day at our Solid Ground Sand Point Housing Campus meeting with our Residential Staff as we worked to identify and problem solve barriers and challenges that constrain how we serve the 175 families who live in our housing at Sand Point. It was an intense day when we consider the lived experiences of our families and our commitment to strengthening their lives.

Yesterday, the national holiday in honor of Dr. King was a day of Action, Advocacy and Accountability. Dr. King reminds us:

So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind – it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact – I can only submit to the edict of others.”

President & CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr. (2nd from right) discusses ideas for making the strongest impact when talking to your legislators.

President & CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr. (2nd from right) discusses ideas for making the strongest impact when talking to your legislators.

We do have the right to vote, and electing responsible leaders is an important first step. Holding our leaders accountable for the laws they enact or fail to enact is action that is still needed, especially for our residents who are trapped by poverty and oppression.

This is why I was in Olympia with Solid Ground’s Statewide Poverty Action Network on MLK Lobby Day 2015. I hope during this Legislative Session, you will advocate for equity and justice, and support our advocacy efforts.

An effective way is to contact your legislators by calling the Legislative Hotline, 1.800.562.6000. Join in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Take action to advocate on behalf of our Solid Ground program participants and residents, and in doing so, help hold our electeds accountable.

“The Mountaintop”: Reflections on Dr. King’s Legacy

April 3, 1968 was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last speech, and much like an artist whose work is only truly seen after they’ve passed, so began the career of one of America’s greatest leaders. The groundwork for what would become Dr. King’s legacy had already been clearly laid in Montgomery with the bus boycotts, in the Selma voting rights movement to his famed march on Washington in 1963 where he delivered his “I Have a Dream”  speech. But truly great leaders have ways of speaking to the human condition both in life and most especially in death. They find ways to push us to wrestle with our collective conscience, they get us to see that our individual worlds are far bigger than we imagine, and they ask us to look beyond the present to a future that could be if we just believed.

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Dr. King conjured a reality firm in his understanding but fanciful in ours. He saw the civil rights struggle in its totality, its ebbs and flows, its setbacks and ultimate victory. But isn’t that what “prophets” do? They stand in the present looking into some other world yet to come? They try to persuade us to hold on and assure us that what we’re seeing isn’t all there is, that it’ll get better.

In his “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” speech, Dr. King takes his audience on a journey through history as uniquely seen by him.

From his final speech:

Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world. And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the Promised Land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there.”

Dr. King used religious imagery to describe how he viewed history, its eventual arc towards justice and how he would more than likely not see it with us. (Prophets seldom bask in their accolades, they speak their truth and then they fade so their words can live on.) But these lines are particularly striking as we see a man moving fluidly through history to a point of its uncertainty to eventual justice:

I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his 95 theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating President by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but ‘fear itself.’ But I wouldn’t stop there.

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, ‘If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.’

Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the 20th century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.”

Although Dr. King’s appearance at the Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters) was in support of local sanitation workers, the effect of the moment leaped out and across history’s pages. He saw the Promised Land as clearly as we see the here and now. It was all real to him then because he knew that sustained intelligent and humane resistance moves mountains. People can’t just look at the world and sigh, they have to be willing to give up some of the cynicism and believe a better world is possible.

It is the fate of some to walk along history’s periphery as it moves outward, where events swirl like an unpredictable vortex as they did in the ‘60s, and their full implications are impossible to fathom. It is here along these folds of probabilities not yet fully conceived of or realized that Dr. King walked freely. That’s part of King’s magic: He was able to help us as a society conceive of something reality clearly didn’t lend itself to in ‘68. He saw beyond the water cannons, biting dogs, and threat to life and limb to the “better angels of our natures.”

The last lines of his speech:

And so I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man!
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!!”

With those words ended the “Mountaintop” speech on the last day in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but they also opened a window into a man who was resolved to allow events to occur even though the outcome surely meant his death.

Dr. King’s dream is like humanity’s relentless quest for perfection: We strive and continue towards it, even though we may never attain it, but it’s in the striving we become better people.

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