Duluth, MN - Skip Humphrey and Mike Freeman of the DFL, and Ken Pentel of the Green Party, contenders for Governor, sparred in a candidates forum August 25. "We wanted to nail them down on where they stood on poor people's issues," said Marvella Davis, event organizer and a leader of Low Income People Organizing For Power (LIPOP). "Minnesota has a lot of poor people, and a handful of rich. We need to know what, if anything they plan on doing to address poverty," she added.
The Republican candidate, Norm Coleman, refused to attend the debate. He has a reputation for open hostility to the interests of poor and working people. Despite tough questioning by LIPOP and the Minnesota Welfare Rights Coalition, Skip Humphrey refused to take a stand against the attacks on welfare. Green Party candidate, Ken Pentel said that welfare reform was a part of the war on the poor.
There is a rising tide of anger in Duluth's low income community. At a recent LIPOP meeting, Darren Hawpetoss told of being kept waiting four hours by a financial worker at the welfare office. When the worker finally emerged, she stated that she needed to go get a cup of coffee. "Her coffee comes before human lives," says Hawpetoss. Another participant, Shelly Thygeson says, "We need to hold the system accountable."
Paul Ebert sees fighting back as a matter of survival and states, "When a CEO gets 230 million dollars in one year, something is wrong with this country."
Davis notes, "Low Income People Organizing for Power has an impressive track record. We got our Senator Sam Solon and our Representative Mike Jaros to introduce the Minnesota Welfare Rights Coalition's Anti-Poverty Bill in the 1997 legislative session."
"We also put the heat on Rep. Tom Huntley. Huntley works at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. We were nice enough to wait until his class was done. When he came out we cornered him, asked him questions on where does he stand with the welfare issue. The most important question was, 'Are you willing to get more education for those of us who need more education?' He answered with a yes. We also made him sign a contract that he would push for that," said Davis.
Duluth is emerging as a stronghold of Minnesota's poor people's movement. "We get new people involved in the organization through door-knocking, leafleting at the welfare office, or some kind of action," stated Derrick Parker, another LIPOP leader.
LIPOP is now pushing for a public hearing on the abuses that are taking place within Minnesota's new welfare program.
"Our main goal is to get our community involved in organizing and standing up for what is right. We will use our power to fight injustice and oppression that affects every one of us," said Parker