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Minnesota's Poor Say

No Justice No Peace!

by Mick Kelly |
January 4, 1999
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St. Paul, MN - Low-income people from across Minnesota packed the State Capitol Building rotunda on January 5, to demand that politicians undo the attacks on welfare. The rally, which drew well over 100 people, was organized by the Minnesota Welfare Rights Coalition and timed to coincide with the opening of the State Legislature.

"We have come here today, from all over Minnesota to demand that Minnesota politicians stop the war on the poor! Stop the war on our families. And stop the attacks on welfare," said Didi Francis of the Minnesota Welfare Rights Coalition.

Protesters traveled to St. Paul from Duluth, Mankato, St. Cloud, Fargo/Moorhead, and Winona. Many participants were Hmong and Somali immigrants.

"When the federal government passed the federal welfare 'reform' law in 1996, they declared a war on poor families all across this country. When Minnesota lawmakers went along with the criminal federal law and passed Minnesota's welfare 'reform' law in 1997, they brought the war to Minnesota's poor. And when Minnesota's welfare program, MFIP-S went into effect in 1998, the bombs were dropped on families across this state," Francis continued. "Today, one year after Minnesota's new welfare program started we are here to testify that MFIP-S is a disaster! It is causing more hunger, and more homelessness for our families."

Opening Shot

The January 5th rally marked the beginning of this year's battle between state politicians and Minnesota's poor people's movement. The Minnesota Welfare Rights Coalition has announced that it will pressure legislators to expand educational opportunities; end the sanctions which cut benefits; stop forced work and create livable wage jobs; end the $100 grant cut for families in subsidized housing; make up all food stamp cuts; end attacks on immigrants; and abolish the 5-year lifetime limit on receiving benefits.

The Coalition is also pressing legislators to hold hearings on the effects of MFIP-S. State officials argue that the welfare reform law is a "success." Reports from counties across the state show a pattern of abuse, and discrimination. Sanctions that cut or end benefits are causing serious hardships across Minnesota.

A Coalition statement noted, "The truth is that MFIP is making us more poor. It is taking food off our tables, it is forcing our families into the streets and it is cheating us out of getting decent jobs that we can survive on. MFIP cuts our chance for education, cuts our food stamps, and cuts our lifeline out from under us. MFIP opens the door for racist discrimination, abuse and attacks on immigrants and refugees. Welfare workers and job counselors make us take any job at any wage, giving rich corporations an easy pick of cheap labor, and giving us a one way ticket down a dead-end street."

Hector Martinez, of Centro Cultural de Fargo Moorhead stated, "Already thousands of Minnesota families have suffered huge cuts because of sanctions, throwing us into deeper crisis. Politicians, who have never walked in our shoes, are trying to force us to our knees and accept their criminal attacks. But we will not be silent - we will stand up and speak out and fight back!"

The Minnesota Welfare Rights Coalition has prepared legislation to reverse these attacks.

Speakers at the January 5th rally called on newly-elected Governor Jesse Ventura to take a stand on the side of the poor. The Capitol echoed with the chant, "Jesse, Jesse, you must know - welfare cuts have got to go!" During the protest, Ventura was several blocks away in the studios of Minnesota Public Radio, blaming homelessness on the homeless.

Growing Struggle

"In 1999, we will make it clear that the low income community has had enough. We have no intention of suffering in silence," said Deb Konechne of the Minnesota Welfare Rights Coalition. "The politicians have given us no option but to fight back! We have built a poor people's movement that will never give a moment of peace to those would deny us justice."