Poor People’s Campaign calls on Kansas congresswoman to support the needs of the working poor

By: - June 7, 2021 4:13 pm

Vicki Distefano speaks Monday during the Poor People’s Campaign demonstration at U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids’ Kansas City, Kansas office. (Miranda Davis for Kansas Reflector)

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS — Many of the protesters outside U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids’ office Monday were advocating for policies like single-payer health care, a higher minimum wage and improved housing conditions for deeply personal reasons. 

Vicki Destefano was one of 20 protesters from the Poor People’s Campaign, which hosted the rally. Distefano’s brother Michael died several years after a severe motorcycle accident. As his primary caregiver, she witnessed his care decline when former Gov. Sam Brownback established KanCare, the contractor-based program the state uses to administer Medicaid. She said even if the state expands Medicaid, the for-profit model wouldn’t improve conditions for many Kansans. 

“KanCare killed my brother, Medicare for All could have saved him,” Distefano said. 

The group is asking the Democratic congresswoman to support U.S. House Resolution 438, a bill that would usher in changes like single-payer health care, a federal jobs guarantee, free college, student debt relief, a right to water, large-scale immigration reform and the abolishment of ICE, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids
U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids

Davids office did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication. Davids represents Kansas’ third congressional district, which covers all of Wyandotte and Johnson Counties and some of Miami County. So far, no one from Kansas’ congressional delegation has expressed support for the resolution. 

The rally was one of 30 happening throughout the U.S. on Monday, as part of a larger effort by the Poor People’s Campaign to garner support for the resolution, which they’re referring to as a Third Reconstruction, a nod to the Reconstruction efforts that happened after the Civil War and the Civil Rights efforts in the 1960s. 

Protesters carried signs that said “A poverty wage is violence,” “Systemic poverty is amoral,” and “fight poverty, not the poor,” and the group’s speakers focused on health care but discussed issues ranging from rural mental health resources to affordable housing in the metro. 

Mark Pringle drove two hours from Yates Center to attend Monday’s rally. Pringle said the bill would address inequities and specific issues rural Kansans are suffering from. He said that in Kansas the suicide rate for farmers is three times that of average Kansans. 

“Rural America is crying out for help, and our nation isn’t listening,” he said. 

Dustin Hale, with Wyandotte County Mutual Aid, said area residents are suffering in public housing that frequently has black mold, broken windows and other substantial issues caused by decades of neglect. One of the area’s main affordable housing complexes, Juniper Gardens, is set to be shut down which would displace at least 100 residents, many of whom are Black, Hale said. 

“Locally, we have to stop neglecting properties and treat these people in a humane way,” he said. 

Rev. Jessica Williams of the Central Baptist Theological Seminary — and a local leader of the Poor People’s Campaign — said the group selected Davids’ office because the local branch is based out of Wyandotte County, and this shows elected officials what issues worry their constituents.

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Miranda Davis
Miranda Davis

Miranda Davis is a freelance writer living in the Kansa City area. She is originally from Lawrence and has previously covered real estate, state and local politics, and economic development. Follow her on Twitter @mirandardavis.