Why did Occupy Wichita protest in the Governor’s Town Hall Meeting?


“Marriage should not be a financial decision” – Mike Shatz (me)

Fifteen or so members of Occupy Wichita attended the Governor’s Town Hall Meeting on “Reducing Childhood Poverty” and disrupted the proceedings with a peaceful demonstration which lasted about five minutes.

As Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation was finishing his speech, members of Occupy Wichita began to stand with their backs to Rector, near the front of the audience of about 250. We (I was one of them) stood silently in a line of solidarity for several minutes. It was kind of uncomfortable at first, but I quickly found a righteous peace with the situation.

When Rector concluded his speech, Occupy Wichita called a Mic-Check and we read from pamphlets that an Occupy Wichita member handed out at the door. This is what we read:

“Brownback and Siedlecki push women, children and the elderly out of the social safety nets as if they were pushing them out of the lifeboats on the Titanic.  This is unacceptable.

Brownback, Siedlecki and Rector give Cinderella solutions to the real problems of economic inequality that are worsening everyday. They promote marriage, while slashing programs for women, children and the elderly in order to put more money into the already stuffed pockets of the rich corporations, politicians and lobbyists.

Kansas children in poverty need public education. Brownback cut $232 per pupil. We now have fewer teachers and more crowded classrooms. He tried to eliminate the Early Head Start program.

Many factors keep families trapped in an endless cycle of poverty but there is nothing more devastating than low wages. Parents work full time and still cannot provide a future for their children because their employers pay such pitiful wages. The solution is a statewide living wage law, where anyone who is willing and able  can work to earn a wage that allows them to raise their children with honor and dignity

Kansas children in poverty include those who are uninsured and under-insured.  Brownback sent back $31.5 million in federal grant money for health exchanges. There are 347,400 uninsured Kansans, and nearly 75,000 are children.

Many factors keep families trapped in an endless cycle of poverty but there is nothing more devastating than low wages. Parents work full time and still cannot provide a future for their children because their employers pay such pitiful wages. The solution is a statewide living wage law, where anyone who is willing and able  can work to earn a wage that allows them to raise their children with honor and dignity.

Kansas children in poverty include those who are uninsured and under-insured. Brownback sent back $31.5 million in federal grant money for health exchanges. There are 347,400 uninsured Kansans, and nearly 75,000 are children.

Siedlecki compared welfare benefits to an addictive drug and said the new penalties are meant to help adults get off the rolls. These draconian penalties do not work in the best of times. They will not work  in the worst of times. They will harm children.

Mothers of Kansas children living in poverty need access to early prenatal care. Kansas has the worst infant-mortality rate for African-Americans in the nation. Kansas must offer immediate Medicaid eligibility to pregnant women living in poverty.

Kansas children in poverty need mental health treatment. Brownback has cut funding for residential mental health programs for adolescents when demand for services has increased.

Kansas children in poverty include the children of undocumented immigrants. Siedlecki, seeks to eliminate benefits to undocumented applicants.

Brownback refused to apply for millions in federal funds to help communities reduce chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.”

Twice during the reciting, Occupy Wichita members received applause from the audience, specifically in regards to caring for impoverished single mothers and Brownback lining the pockets of the wealthy off the backs of the poorest Kansans.

I’m not exactly sure how far through the quoted text we made it before someone on the microphone finally decided to call for a break after repeated attempts to drown out our human mic. Then people got up to leave. I followed a reporter outside (which is sort of my job here) and an incident that I did not witness occurred. When I returned, the police were detaining a 61 year-old woman and they did arrest her for “obstruction of justice”. Her shoulder may be injured from the way she was handled by police.

After hearing what Robert Rector from the Heritage Foundation had to say, I find the entire premise of his plan to reduce childhood poverty to be based in sexism, fallacy and a lot of flashy charts that do not show causation, only correlation. Rectors stance is that childhood poverty is the result of the poor choices made by single mothers. Rector claims that marriage is the key to solving this problem.

Rector’s makes no reference to any efforts to increase child support enforcement. Apparently, based on Rector’s speech, which we did wait for the end of before making our own, the the unwed father who pays no child support is not the problem. Rector’s theory is that everything is the young mother’s fault for getting pregnant without being married first.

This is a blatantly sexist stance. The single mother struggling each day to feed, clothe, house, educate and entertain her child is not the problem. The problem is the unwed father who chooses not to help the mother, regardless of their relationship status. This is why I stood up in the Town Hall Meeting in opposition to Robert Rector’s entire speech.

8 thoughts on “Why did Occupy Wichita protest in the Governor’s Town Hall Meeting?

  1. I think the problem is not even so much the father who pays no child support. Our 4th section about pitiful wages and the lack of a living wage is more significant as a cause.

  2. On Nov. 16, Occupy Wichita protested Brownback’s taxpayer financed “town hall” which only allowed taxpayers to speak around tables with “facilitators” around predetermined questions swaying the discussion to faith-based marriage social engineering funded by $6.6 million federal dollars. Occupy Wichita’s First Amendment rights were suppressed by the Brownback/Siedlecki staff and the Wichita Police Dept, who threatened occupiers with removal for handing out a quarter sheet oppositional flier outside the doors of the “town hall,” and inside to State Representatives and other individuals at tables.

    No speaker was interrupted. Occupy Wichita members stood up during particularly offensive portions of Rector’s Heritage Foundation propaganda about the “reasons” for poverty and the Cinderella solutions they float. Occupy Wichita exercised our right of free speech for a few minutes while the staff called a break. We made our points with the people’s mic and many attendees stayed through the break to listen. We were leaving when the police started bullying

    Occupy Wichita women members suffered bullying by the police as they were leaving the hall. One woman was arrested. No one was interrupted. This is all about suppression of the Constitutional rights of freedom of speech of the little people against the 1%, which Brownback represents.

    1. We received applause from the audience, more than once, as reported by the Examiner and as shown in the video above. In a town hall meeting, all voices should be welcome. We did wait until Robert Rector finished his speech before we made a sound. We spent almost five minutes, between speakers, to make our voices heard, and the audience was receptive and supportive. One person said “This is why we have freedom of speech” and then she smiled at me. There were at least 70 people clapping for us in an audience that primarily consisted of advocates for the impoverished. This is how democracy is supposed to work. While we may not have massive numbers of people camping out in a park downtown (this is still an option) we do have the support of countless members of the community. They drive by honking and waving at us everyday. They voice their support quietly and praise us for our work. If you are one of these people, I urge you to use this blog to comment (you can remain anonymous) and allow your voices to be heard.

  3. Thank you for standing up. We need to continue to challenge the destructive agenda set by the Brownback administration. They are divisive and regressive and the people of Kansas deserve better!

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