Erika Sanders, Beloved Community Staff Team
Over six weeks in May and June, I was honored to be a volunteer photographer documenting seven marches, rallies and protests ("actions," in short) organized by the Minnesota Poor People's Campaign. Actions took place to take a moral stand on several issues: to protest Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); to urge environmental justice and stop Enbridge's Line 3 oil pipeline proposal; to call for fair treatment of workers and a living wage; and to publicly and collectively imagine a budget built for peace, not militarism and war.
As an amateur but avid photographer I've photographed many events and political actions. Each has a distinct mood, or combination of moods, including grief, pain, outrage, fury, love, pleading, demanding, longing, buoyancy, diffuse or focused energy, humor, and awkwardness. The Poor People's Campaign events had elements of all these, but they also had unusually potent feelings of joy, hope, and possibility. And that felt miraculous. I came to look forward to each action with greater and greater eagerness, and I don't think I was alone in that sensation.
I suspect there are a lot of reasons the Poor People's Campaign actions felt and looked that way through my camera's lens. But there's one reason that strikes me most: these events were the embodiment of what we have come to call intersectionality: the understanding of how different types of oppression and injustice compound and magnify one another, and how any one thread of collective or individual identity is woven alongside many others. They gave fresh life to Dr. King's admonishment that "we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny."
We talked about how protecting our environment is bound up in fighting racism. We learned about a living wage as not just a matter of economic justice — but as a matter of racial and gender justice, too. We dreamed of a world where refugees and asylum-seekers are greeted with radical hospitality, no matter their race, national origin, or socioeconomic status. The participants and planners of the Poor People's Campaign modeled and reflected this sense of interwoven destiny. They were an incredibly diverse group, and partners came from many faith traditions and many organizations, including Jewish Community Action, CTUL, 15 Now Minnesota, MIRAC (Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee), Minnesota Council of Churches, the Center for Sustainable Justice, the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Minnesota, Veterans for Peace, the Rye House, the Center for Prophetic Action, Ujamaa Place, and Women Against Military Madness. Unity Church people were there, of course, in the thick of it all. Many put their bodies directly in service to the group purpose, and were arrested.
As my shutter clicked thousands of times, capturing people speaking, yelling, singing, marching, and being handcuffed, I was struck by how rare this embodiment of intersectionality really is. It's one thing to understand it intellectually, but another to witness it. To do it, feel it, be it. And we did. It was precious.