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Ventura, Politicians Slammed

by Deb Konechne |
July 19, 1999
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St. Paul, MN - More than 100 low-income protesters laid siege to the office of Reform Party Governor, Jesse Ventura, on April 23. Organizers from the Minnesota Welfare Rights Coalition demanded Ventura address the disaster caused by the new welfare reform program, the Minnesota Family Investment Plan (MFIP).

Capitol police and State Patrol officers had attempted to prevent demonstrators from entering the Capitol Building. "This is our Capitol and we, as the people of Minnesota, have every right to our capitol," stated emcee Trishalla Bell of the Minnesota Welfare Rights Coalition (MN-WRC), to the cheers of demonstrators. Protesters refused to be turned away, chanting loudly, "Politicians we’re at your door! Stop the war on the poor!"

Following a tense, 30-minute standoff at the Capitol entrance, the police backed down and protesters streamed into the building.

"We are here today to demand justice," said Derek Parker of Low Income People Organizing for Power of Duluth. Protesters demanded that the Governor come out and hear the demands. A 30-foot long "Condemned" sign was put up to cover the entrance to Ventura’s office and the chant "Jesse is a coward!" echoed through the building.

Ventura stayed in the back office with wrestling champ Bob Backlund, sending out his chief spokesperson, John Wodele, to receive the demands. In a press statement, Ventura complained about the MNWRC protest, "I do not appreciate being called a poor-basher. I believe that welfare is not a right."

"We’re here to tell Governor Jesse Ventura that he better get a clue, because the biggest recipient of public money in this crowd is Jesse himself. This man is making over $120,000 in public aid with free housing and transportation to boot, and he has the nerve to bash poor families!" stated Didi Francis of the Twin Cities Welfare Rights Committee (WRC).

The April 23 rally was a part of the ongoing battle waged by MN-WRC against attacks on welfare. "Poor people all over Minnesota have had enough," stated one protest organizer. Low income organizations from Moorhead, Duluth, and the Twin Cities mobilized large numbers of people for the protest.

"Whether you are on welfare or not, you’re still a part of this state and you are still someone’s son, daughter or parent. We should be entitled to housing, to food, to education, and to a chance at life. We should be able to do more than just survive. The fact is, the politicians are trying to pull the rug out from under families and the working poor who help sustain everything in the state," stated Theo Menge of Moorhead’s People Escaping Poverty Project.

Looking back at the 1999 Legislative session, Lisa Barrett of the WRC said, “The three parties are claiming a victory. They should instead be hanging their heads in shame for selling out Minnesota’s poor families. They stiffed the poor while putting more dollars in the feeding trough of the rich."

Low income people packed legislative hearings, putting the politicians on the defensive. Dozens testified from around the state of Minnesota, speaking of the disastrous consequences of MFIP. "We have laid bare the truth about MFIP," stated Marvella Davis of Duluth. "We have exposed that MFIP is causing more poverty, hunger and homelessness all across the state of Minnesota."

"Anti-poor politicians did not want to talk about welfare this year," said Deb Howze of Minneapolis. "The Minnesota Welfare Rights Coalition made welfare a big issue this year and exposed the ugly truth of what MFIP really is. We forced politicians to look at the facts that MFIP is a disaster for our families! We are being denied our rights to an education, being forced into low-wage, dead-end jobs, and sanctions are pushing us into the streets!"

Victories

"Over the past few months, poor people from all over Minnesota have been working very hard, coming to the capitol day after day, to fix the disaster called MFIP. MN-WRC has been successful in pushing legislators to offer many bills to fix the worst problems in MFIP. But ruthless politicians inside the capitol have carried out every dirty trick in the book to try and turn us away, to stop our efforts and to kill poor people’s bills!" said WRC member, Kim Defranco. "Despite all their dirty tricks, we refuse to give up and we are continuing to win very important battles."

"We stopped the $100 grant cut to families in public housing, that was set to go into effect in July 1999. Money for immigrants to get food will continue for the next 18 months. We won more rights to education and ESL. Above all, MFIP’s image has been damaged beyond repair and the only way to fix it, is to fix the terrible problems in MFIP and address the needs of poor Minnesotans," said Linden Gawboy of Minneapolis.

And, according to Deb Howze, "Above all, we are growing as a movement of low income people from all over the state of Minnesota. We will continue to fight each and every attack against the poor and we will never give up until we get justice!"

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