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Group rallies against veteran homelessness, extreme war spending

Poor People's Campaign
The Poor People's Campaign on Boston Common (Photo: Keith Bedford/Globe Staff)

Thirty red tents in orderly rows on the Boston Common Monday afternoon symbolized veteran homelessness on Memorial Day and were an eye-catching cornerstone of the Poor People’s Campaign’s fight against the “war economy.”

A rally organized by the campaign drew more than 100 attendees to the Common for several hours, as participants chanted and held signs that stated phrases like “Stop Making A Killing On Killing.”

The rally, part of a 40-day action campaign in support of social reform and the fight against poverty, focused on themes of war, homelessness, and veterans’ affairs.

“The government continues to spend billions of your tax dollars ... on war and occupation and slaughtering our sisters and brothers abroad,” said Drew King, one of the organizers of the rally, “while gutting human-needs programs here in the US.”

Several of the event’s organizers were veterans who had personally experienced homelessness, such as Savina Martin, one of the statewide coordinators for the Poor People’s Campaign.

“We’re basically here to voice [our concerns] and connect the global war on the poor and how it impacts people that are affected and living below the poverty level here domestically, and particularly here in Massachusetts,” said Martin, an Army veteran who served from 1979 to 1984.

The tents on the Common were meant to represent “those individuals who are experiencing homelessness on an everyday basis,” said Khalil Saddiq, another statewide coordinator.

“A lot of times we are in our homes, they’re cozy, they’re warm; but the people who live out here, outside, they don’t have that,” Saddiq said. 

The issue is personal for Saddiq, who served in the Marine Corps from 1993 to 2000. He said he has been homeless twice since then, and lived at the New England Center and Home for Veterans, just down the road from the Common.

Rallying for these issues on Memorial Day is an inherently patriotic act, said Ann Withorn, a retired University of Massachusetts Boston professor who now leads education efforts about poverty.

“Memorial Day is to honor people who are fighting for something they felt was in their country’s interest; and we always wish that they hadn’t died, we always wish it hadn’t been that way,” she said. “A real patriot is trying to keep someone from that.”

The focus on the “war economy,” she said, stems from the group’s belief that the government spends a disproportionately large amount of money on military expenses, and not enough on human services like fighting poverty. 

“War hurts people. It hurts us first,” Withorn said. “It takes away resources, it confuses us about how to behave, and it hurts men who get trained to do things that’s not good for them and [that] they can’t get away from.”

Several speakers, poets, and musicians addressed the crowd throughout the afternoon. Speakers were scheduled to address domestic topics of gun violence and racism, as well as international issues from Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

“One thing that’s often talked about when it comes to Memorial Day is that it’s supposed to be a day without politics. However, Memorial Day is inherently political” due to its patriotic implications and its complicated history after the Civil War, said Nino Brown, an organizer and one of the emcees at the rally. Brown later added that “if we don’t remember the past, we’re going to be doomed to repeat it.”

The group planned to protest at the Massachusetts State House on Tuesday afternoon and present a list of demands to Governor Charlie Baker.

See article in Boston Globe