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Poor People's Campaign Aiming to Mobilize Change

Protesters in the Kansas Capitol this week. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)

Six weeks of protests by the Poor People’s Campaign nationwide and in Topeka aim to raise awareness of social and economic inequalities.

Translating those demonstrations into changes in state policy, says at least one analyst, will likely demand more sustained efforts.

Protesters occupied part of Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office recently and 18 people were arrested. This week, Statehouse police arrested 16 people protesting in favor of Medicaid expansion outside the office of Gov. Jeff Colyer.

The protests over recent weeks have focused on a variety of issues including poverty, voting rights and immigration policy.

Durell Sharrone is one of the leaders of the Kansas chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign. He said the group’s goal is to create a grassroots movement by raising awareness of those issues.

“Speak ... against those conditions, for others to stand and think, ‘That is immoral. That is wrong and we will not have it,’” Sharrone said.

He said the six weeks of protest are a start, and they hope the campaign will continue into the coming years.

University of Kansas Professor Randal Jelks studies American social movements.  He said protests raise awareness of issues and can motivate people who might otherwise sit out the political process.

“You do have to make people cognizant that these are issues facing them and facing their children for the future,” Jelks said.

However, Jelks said creating policy changes generally takes more than just protests.

“It takes getting out the vote, turning out voters,” he said. “You go out and try to elect candidates that are going to represent the public policy issues that you think are important.”

The national branch of the Poor People’s Campaign will be pushing voter registration.

Sharrone said the Kansas chapter could be urging new candidates to run for office.

“If that’s what it takes,” he said. “We are saying that it is time that you work on behalf of the people or it is time that you are fired.”

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

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