A Family Caregiver Speaks Out Against War at Poor People’s Campaign rally in Lancaster, PA

I’m Eric Gjertsen, I am on the coordinating committee of the PA Poor People’s Campaign and work with Payday, an international network of men working with the Global Women’s Strike. We are proud national partners of the PPC and excited to come together with everyone in 2 short weeks in DC!

I live in Reading now but lived in Lancaster County for seven years when my partner Tonya and I took care of her mother, Ruth Wenger, in her own home in Akron, until she passed away in 2017. I mention this because I try to imagine what it is like for family caregivers now, during the pandemic, when resources are scarce and COVID-19 especially dangerous for elderly and vulnerable people. I am humbled thinking of the struggles so many caregivers have been fighting for over two years now, and enraged that this country has so little respect for our work.

I want to remember and honor my partner’s mother today, who some of you may know: a dedicated mother, physical education teacher and hockey coach, and fierce activist for peace. For many years during the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, she and a few other ‘Women in Black’ kept up a regular vigil at the courthouse here in Lancaster against the wars. She worked in Germany as a young woman following WWII, where she saw firsthand the reality of war in the lives of refugee families. If she were alive, she would be out here with us today, working nonstop to coordinate buses and carpools from churches across Lancaster to come to DC. So I feel the spirit of Ruth Wenger here with us today.

In Payday, we work with men and women internationally who refuse to kill – soldiers, veterans, whistleblowers, and others whose refusal is crucial to ending war. And we see it is those of us at the bottom, starting with women and children in the Global South, who are killed or forced to kill others who are just as poor, while the money we need to survive is stolen from us, and the land, air and water on which we all depend are polluted and destroyed.

Co-chair Bishop William Barber II at the rally

It is ever more urgent that we attack the war economy as the enemy of the poor, as Dr. King so clearly articulated it 54 years ago. Proxy wars funded by the US and other countries are raging in the Ukraine, Haiti, Yemen, Myanmar, Africa and elsewhere, sucking away money while we are left to survive on little to nothing as prices for basic necessities go through the roof. Mass shootings in the US are one result of these policy decisions.

Co-chair Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis

Finally, we can no longer ignore that the US military is the world’s largest polluter, creating 750,000 tons of toxic waste every year. War also means massive deforestation and soil destruction, key factors in global warming. And this toxic legacy affects poor communities across the US, and thousands of veterans and their caregivers.

All this is why we need to come together – why the Mass Assembly in DC in two weeks is absolutely essential for all of us. We will not be silent, or unseen, anymore!