29th Annual Poor People's Day Held at Georgia Capitol

Original source: The Atlanta Progressive News

(APN) ATLANTA - About 75 local and state activists descended on the Georgia State Capitol Thursday, February 12, 2009, via a boisterous caravan to unveil The People's Bailout, a plan for ordinary Georgians.

Several progressive constituencies hold lobby days while the Georgia legislature in session. Similar to last year, this year's 29th Annual Poor People's Day involved a caravan, which launched from the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless and ended at the Georgia Capitol.

Yesterday, an education day had been held at the office of the Georgia Coalition on Hunger.

A populist response to the recent private bank bailout in the US, this year's seven-point People's Bailout includes calls for single-payer universal healthcare, a moratorium on foreclosures, increasing the minimum wage, reforming the tax code, ending time limits on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), ending privatization of public institutions, and sentencing non-violent petty criminals to house arrest.

'We need jobs, fair taxes, just welfare assistance,' Sandra Robertson, Executive Director of the Georgia Citizens' Coalition on Hunger, said. 'We need public housing. We need a host of things to help ordinary people.'

This year, Poor People's Day holds significance for an even larger majority of Georgians, as the US has entered an economic recession which analysts are saying is much worse than recent US recessions.

The numbers tell the story: according to a pamphlet regarding the People's Bailout, 393,168 Georgians were out of work, 112,000 more were working jobs paying less than the federal minimum wage, and 116,225 foreclosures occurred in 2008.

As previously covered by Atlanta Progressive News, last year's Poor People's Day had been combined with a people's ballot-where people got to vote on their issue priority-and also coincided with a World Social Forum solidarity day. After a long caravan ride through downtown, activists met at the Georgia Coalition on Hunger office for speeches.

In 2006, the main event was held at a downtown church and included a march to the Capitol and lobbying of legislators for an increase in the state minimum wage, one which today still has not been enacted.

In Georgia, there are some occupations which are allowed to pay wages lower than the federal minimum wage, which has been incrementally increasing since 2007.

'We can tell those in high places that when the time for change comes... [no one] can stop it,' Dr. Kenneth L. Samuel, pastor of the Victory Church in Stone Mountain, said.

'We have to be the change agents. We need to reinvest in America,' he added. 'Now is the time. Let's fight the war on poverty [and] put the focus back on our own people.'

Other speakers targeted specific issue areas of concern.

Alan Essig, Executive Director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, said Georgia should do 'something fundamental about the tax code.'

'You can give relief to low to moderate income people,' Essig said. 'We can give a tax cut to the majority of Georgians.'

The People's Bailout calls for exempting families who make less than $12,000 a year from paying taxes.

Additionally, the plan calls for requiring families making over $100,000 a year and corporations earning more than $250,000 taxable net income to pay 18 percent state income tax. Other corporations should pay 12 percent.

Further, the plan states that families who earn less than $100,000 taxable income but more than $39,000, should pay 10 percent; while families earning between $12,001 and $39,000 should pay 6 percent.

'We believe this is a fair tax that helps lower-income families,' the plan states. 'Our poorest citizens should not carry the bulk of the tax burden of our state.'

Bobbie Paul, Executive Director of Georgia Women's Action for New Directions (WAND) discussed nuclear power and the impact Georgia Power's plan to expand the Plant Vogtle nuclear facility will have on residents living in the area.

'Tritium coming from nuclear power plants can be carcinogenic, mutagenic, and multigenerational,' Paul said. 'It is a bad idea.'

She also expressed disappointment over the Georgia Senate's passage of SB 31 Wednesday, as reported by Atlanta Progressive News. That bill would allow Georgia Power to raise rates on consumers to pay for the construction of the expansion at Plant Vogtle rather than waiting to bill customers after the project is complete.

'If we had a people's lobby, this never would have happened,' Paul said.

The American Association of Retired People is leading the charge against the bill and hoping to convince enough members of the Georgia House to stop it.

'Georgia Power's fantasy for clean and cheap power... is just that - a fantasy,' Paul said. '[One] that is meant to shift risks from utility shareholders and executives to taxpayers and ratepayers.'

Other topics of discussion today included homelessness and the prison industrial complex.

Citizens had a chance to spend yesterday participating in workshops and plenary sessions on these and other topics during Education Day at the Coalition on Hunger's headquarters in Atlanta.

To conclude the ceremony Thursday, participants jammed the phone lines of the Capitol, making calls to several state lawmakers, telling them, 'We demand The People's Bailout.'

They also encouraged lawmakers to support HB 290, which would raise the minimum wage and do so every year to keep up with the cost of living.

Afterwards, a delegation went to the Capitol to speak to different lawmakers about these issues.

'We know they will hear, when each and every one of you makes your voices heard,' Dianne Mathiowetz of the Atlanta International Action Center said.