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Rejection of Poor at SVDP store

When we visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN last year I was struck by the exhibits of African American civil rights resistance which started soon after the first slave ships arrived from Africa and mostly ended after the assassination of Martin Luther King.

Overt acts of racism are rare but discrimination against poor Blacks and Latinos/as continues in the New Jim Crow. A small group of us were picketing on the sidewalk in front of St. Vincent de Paul Thrift store on April 23, 2016 in the predominately white suburb of Greenfield.

The mission of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is for lay volunteers to make person to person visits to people in need and help them gain basic needs like clothing, household items, stoves and refrigerators. The mission of a St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) thrift store is to assist members of SVDP with vouchers to buy these basic items and to offer low income persons, like the segregated people in North Central Milwaukee, a place to shop for low cost items. However, the local staff and board in Milwaukee have spent, raised and loaned 10.5 million dollars from 2013–2015 with only $250, 000 going to serve the needs of the poor by members. A large sum of the 10.5 million had gone to purchase, renovate and operate a SVDP thrift store, not where people needed it but, in the far south middle class suburb of Greenfield. The picket was asking for the Staff and Board members in Milwaukee to“Show Us the Money’ that the Society rules claimed “belongs to the poor” but was not used for the poor.

At the Grand Opening of the new Greenfield store last summer we were made aware that there was No Room for Poor in the new store when we, after the grand opening ceremony, were made to leave the parking lot and store by the Greenfield police. After this picket last Saturday, three of us: Ms. Lucille Berrien, 88 year old civil rights activist, Pastor Shelia Williams from the central city and myself decided to check out the inside of the thrift store. We entered and were welcomed. Ms. Lucille exchanged her walker for a shopping cart to get around the store. Suddenly, the store manager appeared and came up to us and said we had to leave the store immediately. When we asked why she made reference to a sign on the door which said people who protest in the store or parking lot were not welcome. We pointed out that our Show Us the Money Picket was a legal one on the sidewalk not on the store property. Her response


Banning sign on SVDP Greenfield store

was to have an employee call the police who were in the parking lot. About four police came rushing in and said we had to leave and threatened us with arrest. When we asked the police what law we were violating they said ‘trespassing’, the owner of the store wanted us to leave. We pointed out that in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul “all money belongs to the poor” and the manager was not the owner. It did not matter and they started to push us out of the store. Not prepared to get arrested for attempting to shop in the store, we decided to leave. Outside the police said I could get my car and pull it up to the store since Ms. Lucille would not have to walk so far. When I pulled up with the car our friend Amada came walking into the store with her mother, Berta, her infant son and two other children. Berta, a Mexican-American knows Ms. Lucille from the civil rights movement. They embraced each other and the store manager told the police that they also were not allowed in the store. There was no good reason for this action and I, the only white person, started to again argue with the police who kept saying the owner wanted all of us removed from the property. I kept quoting the manual of the Society that “all money belonged to the poor” which was the purpose of our picket.

A small group of persons, mostly white suburbanites, have taken over the Milwaukee SVDP and are investing millions in this suburban store that, instead of making money for the poor, is wasting money belonging to the poor. Our group, called Power to the Poor, is a small group of Blacks, Hispanics and Whites trying to restore the Society to its true mission to serve persons in need. In the Jim Crow of the South some business decided not to serve blacks at lunch counters with whites. In the segregated south blacks sat in at the white lunch counters until they won their civil rights. In the New Jim Crow of the North, some middle class white persons have decided that they know what is best for the poor by creating a store for suburban whites. Last Saturday in segregated Milwaukee County a small group of Blacks and Hispanics try to enter a thrift store that took “money belonging to the poor” and used it to offer thrift items for middle class whites. We were denied but we have discovered the new lunch counter of the North. We will be back!

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