What Does Poverty Look Like?

Union Alum and Poverty Initiative Poverty Scholar Aaron Scott reports back on a struggle in Longview WA where, for several months, the livelihoods of local longshoremen were under threat from multinational corporation EGT Development.  In collaboration with ILWU chapters, Occupy groups, port truckers, and other supporters up and down the West Coast,  Longview longshoremen led a sustained direct-action campaign which forced EGT to the bargaining table and preserved the Port of Longview as a union-run port.

The struggle in Longview helps to underscore the complexities and indiscriminate character of poverty in the US.  It speaks to the urgency of the work of the Poverty Initiative and the Poverty Scholars program that is committed to helping bring leaders like Aaron, those from Longview, and the many others who are fighting across a range of issues and in a diversity of communities, together in a social movement that will seek out the root causes of poverty and work to abolish it.

Below are some pictures from ILWU Local 21’s direct action campaign from the fall of 2011, as well as reflections from Aaron and Wess Daniels (a local Quaker minister) on their participation in the December 12 West Coast Port Shutdown in support of Longview workers.

Ladies Auxiliary of Local 21 took direct action by blocking grain trains into town, disrupting the flow of EGT’s business.

Protestors were met with an excessively militarized response from EGT and the local sheriff’s department.

Local 21 members and supporters forcibly removed from the site of their action by local law enforcement.

 

From Wess:

“The most important thing I learned about longview had to do with the Dec. 12 ‘Port Shutdown’ in Longview. I had never been involved in an action quite like the occupy action that morning, so I am glad to have had an opportunity to finally get a little more involved in the struggle for economic justice. I went up because a group of clergy from Clark County were invited to go and give their support to the workers. This was the first thing I was impressed by, it is really important to those struggling to survive and those fighting for justice to see religious communities  visible in these struggles. Part of this is simply to be ‘incarnational’ and show that the body of Christ cares about this stuff, part of this is to remind those in power that this isn’t just about money, it is about human rights — it is a moral struggle. A second lesson that I learned was more ‘on the ground.’ We saw a lot of support. A lot of the truck-drivers came by honking and waving, a lot of the community came out and cheered us on. In fact, there was no negative feedback from anyone that I remember give or take one or two people. It was overwhelmingly positive. This stands out to me because the next day in the local news there was a write up about how the truck-drivers and workers were really angry about what we had done and how they felt they had their own rights violated. It turned out that the reporter for the paper was not at any of the rallies and spoke to one or two angry drivers and then spun a story in a way that made the protestors look stupid and put EGT [Export Grain Terminal Development] in a good light. If had not shown up at the rally, if I had not experienced for myself what happened there, I would have had an entirely different impression of the struggle that was taking place. Thus, the voices, images and stories that emerge out of these struggles will either help keep something like this going, or will aid in putting out the fire.”

-C. Wess Daniels, released minister at Camas Friends Church and Clark County Families for Justice member

 

From Aaron:

“The most significant lesson I learned from studying and supporting the ILWU’s actions in Longview is this: small towns and rural communities aren’t just at the front lines of economic exploitation– they also have tremendous potential to be the front lines of powerful resistance to this exploitation.  I’ve spent a lot of time with powerhouse poor and working people’s organizations, but few can compare to the militance of ILWU Local 21.   Our brothers and sisters in Longview have stood up for their families by putting their own bodies on the line, again and again, in the fight for fair wages and preserving a union-run port.  They’ve faced down brutality by the Cowlitz County sheriff’s office and EGT’s private security forces, laid down on train tracks to prevent EGT grain shipments from coming into town, resisted infiltration in their collaboration with other groups, navigated strategic relationships with local Occupy movements from Seattle to Oakland, and got the word out about their struggle despite a total mainstream media blackout on the national level and a complete smear campaign in the local press.  Every struggle across the country has something to learn from the Longview longshore families’ commitment, courage, strategy, and tenacity.  I’d especially like to see more city-based movements studying their connections to struggles like the one in Longview.  City folks tend to forget that powerfully strategic epicenters of resistance can and do exist in small places.  Longview’s population is only about 37,000 people, but its location as a major shipping hub for all freight heading to and from the Pacific makes it a crucial economic site– a LOT of capital flows through that port, giving a relatively small number of union workers a great deal of power to leverage.  On top of this, in smaller communities like Longview, there’s often a depth of relationship which already exists that allows people to work together across lines of difference– not everyone may be on the same page politically, but they know who they can (and can’t) trust as neighbors, fellow church-members, and family.  I don’t often here big city organizers talk about the importance of connecting with and learning from small town organizers.  But I should.  Longview is exactly why.”

-Aaron Scott, Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd and Clark County Families for Justice member, Poverty Scholar/Poverty Initiative alum

 

For more information on ILWU Local 21, the December 12 West Coast Port Shut Down, and on-going struggles in Longview:

 

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