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"Tax the rich! Stop the cuts to poor and working people."

by Kim DeFranco |
February 13, 2008
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St. Paul, MN - The Welfare Rights Committee, Minnesota Welfare Rights Coalition and supporters gathered in front of the Capitol here, Feb.12 to unfurl a banner too large to hold, cascading down the steps reading, “Tax the Rich! Stop the cuts to poor and working people.” They came for their annual protest at the start of the 2008 legislative session.

Welfare Rights Committee (WRC) member Angel Buechner opened the protest, “This is our 16th year. We are ready with bills in our hands and ready to get justice. We will undo some of the cruelest cuts in history. While politicians gave away millions in tax breaks to the rich, we have seen relentless attacks on the social safety net for poor and working families. With cut-backs in welfare, housing and health care, with continued loss of jobs, with rising cost of medical care, housing, child care, gas and fuel, our families are drowning deep below the poverty level. We can no longer afford this failed agenda.”

Gillie Townsend led the crowd in a fighting cadence, “I don’t know what you have been told - Welfare Rights is on the road. Standing up for all the poor - here we are at the capital door! Fighting every day and night. Standing up for all our rights. Sound off: one, two! Sound off: three, four! Break it on down - one, two, three, four…stop the war on the poor!”

Janise Coffey read the opening statement: “Five years ago, many legislators voted to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. Low-income families’ survival income and programs were slashed when we were already in no position to accept a dime in cuts. Now the state is in a recession - now is the time for the politicians to give more money for the poor. We know that if we fight we can win.”

Last year the work of the WRC and Coalition helped get millions of dollars back for the low-income communities. The Committee states there is more work to do and won’t stop until all the cuts are undone.

Tasha Jackson read, “We are sick and tired of seeing our communities criminalized, marginalized and brutalized. We are sick and tired of seeing the rich feast on trillion-dollar tax breaks and extreme profits, while they try to push our families into the streets. We are fighting back. We will keep coming back to the capitol, day after day, week after week and year after year until we get justice.”

This 2008 legislative year, the Welfare Rights Committee is having the politicians introduce their Poor People’s Bill. This bill will undo the family cap, which cuts money from families when they have additional children while on MFIP (Minnesota’s family welfare program). The bill would also undo the $50 ‘housing cut,’ where families on MFIP and live in subsidized housing have their cash grant cut by $50 every month. It would restore health care to immigrants. The bill would also raise the MFIP grants which have not been increased since 1986 - in those 22 years, the cost of living has risen by 89%. Welfare Rights will continue their campaign to stop workfare. Workfare forces people on public assistance to work for no pay in order to get the grant.

Supporter Brad Sigal, Treasurer of AFSCME Local 3800, “Our union supports the WRC’s struggle for justice. We need to stand together and refuse to be divided. Working and poor people have to stick together to defend ourselves against the attack we all know is coming.” Mentioning WRC’s campaign against workfare, “We have to stop workfare. This hurts families on welfare that are forced to work for nothing. It hurts all workers and their families in Minnesota by driving wages down for everybody. That’s why as a union we have spoken out and will continue to speak out against workfare in Minnesota.”

Erika Zurawski, of the March on the RNC and Stop the War Coalition, rallied the crowd by pointing out that Saint Paul will be hosting the Republican National Convention this September. “When they nominate their next candidate for president, we are going to march in the streets in front of the Excel Center to show our disgust of their candidate and agenda. Are you all going to be there?” Everyone in the crowd cheered “Yes!”

The crowd surged into the capitol chanting, “They say cut back, we say fight back!” They continued to circle the rotunda loudly chanting, “chop from the top.”

The crowd marched up the marble stairs to chambers, filling the area with shouts of, “Hey politicians we’re are at your door! Stop the war on the poor!” WRC members chanted and forced each Representative walk through the loud crowd on their way to the doors of the chamber. The protesters pressed fliers into their hands to demand they undo all the cuts to poor and working people, raise the grants, stop workfare and raise taxes on the rich in this legislative session.

The continuous chanting went on for 20 minutes and echoed throughout the capitol. As the chambers’ doors closed to the public, signaling the start of the new legislative session, the cadence that started the rally ended the rally - a foreshadowing for things to come: “I don't know what you have been told! Welfare Rights is on the road. Standing up for all the poor…”