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Welfare Rights Rally at MN Capitol: Fund Children’s Needs Now!

by Kim DeFranco |
April 2, 2006
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Crowd protesting in capitol hallway
Welfare rights protesters stream into state capitol to bring their message directly to the governor. (Fight Back! News/Kim DeFranco)

St. Paul, MN - “We are here to speak as the poor and working people. Our message to the Minnesota politicians and Governor Pawlenty is clear: ‘Fund children’s needs, not rich people’s greed!’” declared Tracy Furney of the Welfare Rights Committee. She was addressing a crowd of over 200 people from around the state of Minnesota on the front steps of the state capitol building at the Minnesota Welfare Rights Coalition’s protest on March 2.

State ‘Surplus’ = Blood Money

“This year Minnesota has a surplus in its budget,” said Trishalla Bell, WRC member. “Any money that is a surplus is blood money. It is money forged out of the suffering of the poorest Minnesotans and we want the money back.” Bell was referring the massive cuts to health and human services that were carried out by state legislators in the past few years.

Supporters from homeless groups, union workers, anti-war activists and middle school students chanted, “They say cut back, we say fight back!” Women from a Duluth transitional housing program made the journey because they had seen how the cuts have affected women and children in their area. Annabelle LaClaire, of Duluth’s Low Income People Organizing for Power, stated, “The politicians can’t keep taking from us. There is nothing more. We need help now.”

A supporter from AFSCME Local 3800, Brad Sigal, said in a speech, “My union supports the struggle of all working and poor people to a livable wage job and affordable healthcare. Employed and unemployed workers need to join together so that we don’t get pitted against each other fighting over crumbs while the rich get richer.”

Poor People’s Bill: Raise the Grants, Stop Attacks on Immigrants

This year the Minnesota Welfare Rights Coalition is pushing politicians to pass their bill that will undo some of the worst cuts to welfare, healthcare and childcare. The bill, SF3016, also has a provision to raise the state’s welfare grants to families. Minnesota’s welfare grants have not seen an increase since 1986 - since then, the cost of living has increased 78%. To counter the state and national climate of immigrant bashing, MNWRC calls for the state to undo cuts to healthcare for non-citizens. SF3016 is funded by closing a serious corporate tax loophole. SF3015, another MNWRC bill, undoes the same cuts and is funded with money from the state budget surplus.

Storming the Governor’s Office

After the outdoor part of rally, the protesters streamed into the capitol building, chanting, “Hey Pawlenty, here’s the fix! Tax the rich! Tax the rich!” They wound through the marble halls until they reached Governor Pawlenty’s heavily guarded door.

Deb Konechne said to the state troopers and police, “We are here to see the governor. He needs to see the people that he is hurting. We have 200 diapers for him with a message to fund children’s needs and not rich people’s greed!” During the rally, members of the crowd and passing supporters put their signatures and addresses on over 200 pampers as a message to the governor of how politicians’ cuts hurt the children of Minnesota.

When the governor refused to come out, Angella Khan rallied the crowd, “Why should we fund children’s needs now? Well, Governor Pawlenty, the children are the future! It’s been far too long with too many deep cuts to our families and children. It’s time to make the children of Minnesota the priority. It’s time to stop funding the greedy and cheating corporations and wealthy people in this state and fund children’s needs now! Every child has the right and deserves safe and affordable housing, childcare and medical care.”

In the end, officials brought a container out and, with chants ringing off the walls, members of the crowd filed by one-by-one and delivered their diapers.

Emcee Gillie Townsend summed up what the crowd was feeling: “We are fed up! We refuse to be put down and pushed around! We are organizing and standing up and fighting back!”