Unity March Highlights “Don’t Care” Attitude Toward the Poor

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DESPITE THE DREARY DAY, about 75 people came out for the
sixth annual Unity March on October 3, 2009. The event
is a unique coming together of black, brown, and white
people from both the campus and the community. This
year’s march addressed the growing economic crisis, the
need for health care and housing for all, and the criminalization
of the poor.
The march kicked off from the Champaign city building.
The Champaign city council has repeatedly been negligent
in protecting its most vulnerable citizens, failing to
adequately fund the Township office which provides for
the poorest of the poor, refusing to penalize the owners of
Gateway Hotel which displaced 200 poor people when it
closed, and enforcing its zoning codes to shut down the
Safe Haven tent community of homeless men and women.
The march proceeded through downtown Champaign
on University Avenue. From the bridge where the historic
train tracks pass over University Ave., a banner was hung
that quoted Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart. When
asked at the city council meeting on May 12, 2009 where
the homeless were supposed to sleep this winter, the
Mayor responded, “I don’t care.”
Crossing over Wright street to Urbana, marchers passed
by Carle Hospital which several years ago was stripped of
its non-profit status for turning down treatment to the poor
and in some cases sending people to jail for failing to pay
their medical debts. The marchers chanted, “What do we
want? Health care! When do we want it? Now!” A group of
people standing on their front porch joined in the chant.
As we passed by a Subway restaurant, workers came
out to see what was happening. When asked, one worker
told us he had no health care. He raised his fist in support.
In downtown Urbana, the crowd passed by the downtown
jail where Sheriff Dan Walsh also has his office.
There have been several deaths in the county jails under
Walsh’s watch: three suicides within six months in 2004,
Quentin Larry died of a drug overdose in 2005, Janet
Hahn died of diabetes in 2007, and most recently Toddy
Kelly committed suicide on June 25, 2009. Marchers
walked around Walsh’s jail shouting, “Vote Walsh out!”
The Unity March concluded with a rally at the Champaign
County courthouse under the new $6.8 million
clock tower. Father Tom Royer of St. Mary’s Catholic
Church, where the Safe Haven community now resides,
addressed the crowd and expressed the need for us to
appreciate the “dignity and equality of each individual.”
He called for Champaign city officials to sit down with the
members of Safe Haven to find a solution to the current
lack of affordable housing.
Aaron Ammons, poet and emcee of the Krannert Art
Museum’s SPEAK Café read a poem he had written for the
Lastly, the marchers convened for a reception at the
Independent Media Center. Some purchased books from
the Books To Prisoners book sale taking place the same

About Brian Dolinar

Brian Dolinar has been a community journalist since 2004.
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