We had been holding hands in an outward-facing circle for long enough that my shoulders ached.
I’d never been part of a “direct action” before. But in the last year and a half, I’ve gotten used to doing First Amendment-related things I’ve never done before. Ever.
I had agreed to show up as a “yellow,” one of the circle of people who form a human buffer around the “reds,” who had been trained in nonviolent civil disobedience and were prepared to be arrested.
We had gathered at 2:00 to picket the McDonald’s at Marion and University in downtown Saint Paul as part of the MN Poor People’s Campaign to raise the minimum wage. Over a hundred people showed up.
As we began the march from McDonald’s past the Capitol building and through downtown, we stopped to protest in front of Ecolab for the role it plays in keeping restaurant workers’ wages too low to live on.
Eventually, we arrived at the intersection of Kellogg and Wabasha, in front of Saint Paul City Hall.
And stopped traffic.
Nonviolent direct action is supposed to create a crisis that brings people in power to the negotiating table; it doesn’t let them continue to ignore pleas for justice.
Martin Luther King Jr., in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” writes, “You may well ask, ‘Why direct action? Why sit‐ins, marches, etc.? Isn't negotiation a better path?’ You are exactly right in your call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”
It was in front of City Hall that Mayor Melvin Carter’s staff, and then the Mayor himself, met with us and invited us to a community feedback session, because a $15 minimum wage was in Carter’s platform when he campaigned last year.
There were arrests, and by midnight, those people had been released, the direct action over.