Politicians and candidates love to carry on about the “middle class,” but few speak much about poor people. In fact, they’ve been much demonized by the right wing, causing officeholders across the ideological spectrum to ignore poverty as much as they can. It takes events like the fifth annual Poor Peoples’ March — taking place in downtown Cleveland starting at noon Friday — to remind the rest of us about the have-nots.

Bad times call for action, and it was bad times that sparked the initial march. “We began the year that Cleveland was first announced as the poorest city in the nation,” says Valerie Robinson of Stop Targeting Ohio’s Poor, one of the two main sponsoring groups, along with the Family Connection Center. “We began having an annual Martin Luther King march in late August, when he had the first march on Washington in 1963 for jobs and freedom. It was to address the issues of the day and honor Martin Luther King as well.”

Beginning at the State Office Building, wending through Public Square and ending in Willard Park at the Free Stamp, the march will feature speakers at each stop on the route who will talk about how government has (or has not) addressed issues facing the poor. It will open with the singing of the Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and a welcome by the Rev. Tony Minor. Speakers will include experts like Larry Bressler of Advocates for Budget Legislation Equality talking about state budget cuts and the UAW’s Martha Grevatt addressing job loss in Ohio. Other speakers will address homelessness, education and health issues.

“A new addition this year is we have some peace activists joining us from the Northeast Ohio Anti-war Coalition and Peace Action Cleveland,” says Robinson. “They’re going to talk about how money spent on war could be better spent helping people at home.”

The march will conclude at Willard Park with a keynote address by local radio personality Basheer Jones and a program of local entertainment from 2:30-6 p.m. hosted by Al Porter and the Hip-Hop Workshop.

Although Robinson said that the early marches drew a few dozen people, last year’s attracted more than 100, and she’s hoping for more this year. All are welcome to join in any part of the march and the festivities at Willard Park. — Anastasia Pantsios

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