Erica Nanton on International Solidarity, Class Unity and Uplifting Student Voices

Recently Alex Kogan of the University of the Poor interviewed Erica Nanton. Erica Nanton is a Miami-born and Chicago-based organizer, community leader and activist in the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.  She has worked on initiatives in Chicago around education justice, police accountability, and racial and economic justice, as well as national work to hold those in power accountable. She was part of the struggle to raise the Cook County minimum wage to $13 per hour, and marched for 200 miles over 15 days in May 2017 from Chicago to Springfield, IL to fight for a People and Planet First Budget.  A member of the Local School Council at Southside Occupational Academy, her recent work includes registering inmates to vote at Cook County jail as part of Chicago Votes, where she served as a Community Engagement Manager. She works with a coalition of students, parents and teachers from Englewod, IL who are fighting the closure of public high schools in their area. She is currently a co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign in Illinois. At the time of the interview, Erica had just returned from speaking at a conference of the Bermuda Union of Teachers. 

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"A New and Unsettling Force": The Leadership of the Poor

The dispossessed of this nation — the poor, both white and Negro — live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize a revolution against that injustice, not against the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against the structures through which society is refusing to take means which have been called for, and which are at hand, to lift the load of poverty.

The only real revolutionary, people say, is a man who has nothing to lose. There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life.

Rev. Dr. King wrote these words for a series of lectures he gave in December of 1967. The passage is one of the clearest statements of how he saw America’s political and economic situation at that time; as well as the vision and strategy behind his call for a Poor People’s Campaign. Looking closely at it can help us understand that vision and strategy, especially the idea that the poor — as a united social force — can and must lead the rest of our society.

That idea is more true today than ever. The current technological revolution is transforming every part of the economy all over the world. Because of our “cruelly unjust” class-based society, this revolution is bringing more poverty and violence instead of shared wealth. The poor are feeling the effects first: they’re becoming totally unnecessary, from the perspective of those who own and control the economy. This puts them in position to lead the “middle class” to political independence and clarity, as they face the trauma and fear of downward mobility.

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Facing The Heat (Brooklyn Rail)

In all the long duration of human history, from the ancient sacred crypts of Egypt to the glistening towers of our coastal megapolises, there has never been a crisis as severe, as devastating, or as cataclysmic as the one unfolding now. Unless drastic changes are made in very short order to the human social system that encompasses the planet, dire and frightening transformations that cannot be reversed will develop in the Earth's climate, its ocean, and its biosphere. Never has a generation faced a challenge of this magnitude. The fate of all present and future humans, and of the millions of species that share the Earth with us, now hinges on the choices and actions taken immediately by the present generation alive on the planet today.

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Why Would We Think We Cannot Win? A Love Letter from the Movement to End Poverty to the Movement to End Slavery

I have been blessed these last few months. Blessed to feel inspired, curious, connected, and so grateful for — of all things — a course on the movement to end slavery. Offered by the University of the Poor, two classes of about 20 folks each read articles and book chapters, watched videos and listened to podcasts, then met online for 10 weeks, just an hour & a half a week, to dig into the history. In some ways it was just a survey course on a particular historical time period — roughly 1820–1865 — but our context, our teachers, our texts, our students, our focus, and our ambition made it entirely unique.

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