The Party of Lincoln Landed Here

The city of St. Paul figuratively opened its arms and literally barricaded many of its most well traveled streets in order to host the Republican National Convention (RNC). Security concerns, especially concern over the possibility someone might place explosives near the Xcel Energy Center, along with actions taken to insure crowd control, led to measures creating an elaborate labyrinth of fences and phalanxes throughout a significant number of the city’s thoroughfares. For the most part, we natives endured unscathed.
Members of the Dorothy Day/Mary Hall community had front row seats for the unfolding of a diverse assortment of events. Journalists, delegates, demonstrators, and of course, members from every level of law-enforcement trod all over the various haunts of our habitat. In the aftermath of this hullabaloo, the consensus among those involved seems to be that, despite the inconvenience of blocked roads and intense police scrutiny, things ran more smoothly than most people had expected. Certainly, the direst possibilities failed to materialize.
Much credit goes to Rosemarie Reger-Rumsey of the Listening House and Gerry Lauer of the Dorothy Day Center (DDC), along with their staffs, for amassing and disseminating highly useful information about what to expect during the four days of the RNC. Because of their efforts, virtually everyone in our community was aware of the prohibitions on vehicles, understood the likelihood of searches, knew what services would not be available and were prepared to deal with the influx of law enforcement and protestors. Moreover, the DDC served meals 3 times a day while allowing those using the shelter to remain within the center 24 hours a day. The Listening House also added additional time to its usual hours of operation.
During the days of the RNC, both Catholic Charities and Listening House staff, their own transportation and parking problems notwithstanding, were consistently available to address the needs of their clients and guests. When a protest march, on the second day of the RNC, brought hundreds of people to the “Public Assembly Area” directly in front of the DDC, Catholic Charities employees stood guard to insure that none of those people using the overnight shelter of DDC’s Extended Hours Program were inadvertently caught up in a volatile situation.
By most accounts, downtown Saint Paul, generally, and the area around the DDC, specifically, remained, save one or two notable exceptions, remarkably quiet and sedate during the four days of the RNC. In spite of the fact that our city’s leaders elected to place the “Open Forum Stage” directly in front of the DDC, few demonstrations took place along Old Sixth Street. For most of the time during the convention, the area around the “Open Forum Stage” was deserted. Oddly, many of those using services at DDC or the Listening House enjoyed greater ease of movement during the RNC, at least within the immediately surrounding area, than they would experience under normal circumstances. Commuters, who routinely clog the streets during rush hour, failed to appear and most of the usual troublemakers within our community were absent. However, the streets were not always quiet.
On Tuesday, September 2, the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC) brought its “March for Our Lives” to the front door of the Xcel Center–or at least as close to the front door as the marchers could get without proper credentials. Following an afternoon rally at Mears Park, the anti-Poverty group and its supporters headed first to the Capitol grounds, where people hoping, in vain to hear the band Rage Against the Machine perform an impromptu concert joined them. This enlarged group of marchers then proceeded to West 7th Street and settled across from the DDC in the area set aside for the “Open Forum Stage.”
Cheri Honkala, the march’s leader, stated her intention to deliver to those attending the RNC, findings from a truth commission: that poverty and homelessness in the United States constitutes a violation of at least 3 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR); that these violations where preventable: and, that elected officials attending the RNC bore some responsibility for these violations.
With the atrocities of Fascist Germany still fresh in mind, the General Assembly of the United Nations passed the UDHR in 1948. The Declaration enunciated fundamental rights inalienable for all human beings. The United States was a signatory of the UDHR. The PPEHRC interprets articles 23, 25, and 26 of the UDHR such that the failure to provide affordable housing, livable wage employment, and universal health care constitutes a violation of basic economic human rights.
Voices for Changes applauds and supports this effort to expand the public discussion of human rights to include conditions resulting from low economic status. By questioning the extent to which the prevalence of poverty and homelessness in the United States violates adherence by our elected officials to principles of economic justice that were unanimously accepted over sixty years ago, the PPEHRC brings a valuable perspective to the debate on this issue. The UDHR was approved by a vote of 48 to 0 with only Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the six nations of the Soviet bloc choosing to abstain. Additionally, Cheri Honkala and the other leaders of the PPEHRC deserve credit for conducting a disciplined, peaceful expression of their political views.
In the wake of the RNC, Saint Paul, no longer at the center of national and international media attention, will return to normal. Our streets will lose the barricades, buses will travel their usual routes, the DDC will return to its regular hours, and far fewer police officers will appear in full riot gear. Nationally, John McCain and Sarah Palin will go on to stand for election on November 4 as the Republican nominees for President and Vice President of the United States. As normality returns, the question arises whether the March for Our Lives, an organized effort to characterize poverty and homelessness as human rights violations, will have any lasting influence.
Law enforcement and most news media outlets focused on those protestors, self-described anarchists, who openly announced plans to disrupt the proceedings through destruction and violence. The PPEHRC conducted a non-violent, but militant, attempt, through the “March of Our Lives”, to reframe the discussion surrounding concern over affordable housing, medical insurance, education, and employment. To many the PPEHRC’s effort may seem only another demonstration by a dissident group of the kind whose activity is often cited to justify the overwhelming police presence that accompanied the arrival of the Republicans. Overall, however, the PPEHRC’s message corresponds to the message that Voices for Change seeks to advance.
With the curtain now closed on the theater that a national nominating convention must be, the race to the election becomes a 60-day dash for every candidate. It is a time for us to be here dedicated to confronting in earnest the problems that moved the leaders and members of the PPEHRC to march through the streets. All candidates, Democratic, Republican or third party, must be expected to speak to the issue of homelessness and to address the social, political and economic concerns connected with its continued existence.


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