Local participants in the Poor People’s Campaign are hailing Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear’s legal opinion Monday that argued the governor’s office violated the law when it prevented protesters from entering the State Capitol last month.
“It essentially confirmed what we knew all along,” said Megan Huston, a Bowling Green resident and Kentucky tri-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. “It was a clear violation of our constitutional right.”
For six weeks straight, human rights and environmental activists gathered at the Kentucky Capitol to make their voices heard – but the Kentucky State Police blocked protestors from entering the statehouse and informed the campaign group that only two members could enter at a time.
Police assigned several different reasons for limiting the protesters’ access to the building, such as protestors remaining at the Capitol after regular business hours and not obtaining a permit from the state to hold rallies inside the Capitol building, according to the legal opinion.
But the legal opinion argues that state agencies did not have a regulative process for limiting access to the Capitol, and therefore violated the law.
“We conclude that any rules and policies regarding the public’s access to and use of the Capitol building must be promulgated in administrative regulations pursuant to KRS Chapter 13A,” the legal opinion says.
While not laws, opinions of the attorney general are expected to be followed by government agencies, according to the website of the Office of the Attorney General.
Bowling Green native and Poor People’s Campaign member Johnalma Barnett witnessed the blockade in Frankfort firsthand on six different occasions, and expressed gratitude toward the attorney general.
“When I heard it, I thought the law works,” she said. The Capitol “is a people’s house.”
“The fact that we were not given access to our Capitol was honestly embarrassing,” said Huston, who also traveled to Frankfort on multiple occasions. “It’s a disgrace to democracy.”
The Poor People’s Campaign began two years ago as a reflection of Martin Luther King’s 1968 campaign with a self-stated mission of “uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.”
By encompassing a broad swath of issues, such as immigration reform, clean energy and universal healthcare, “this campaign has brought people together from different walks of life that may not have otherwise crossed paths,” Barnett said.
The campaign also brought people together from different regions. Following the six-week campaign in Kentucky, Huston and Barnett traveled to Washington, D.C., to join thousands of people from across the country at the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
With a renewed sense of energy, Huston said this is just the beginning.
Monday’s “victory should be a clear sign that we’re not going to back down,” she said.
Next, the Kentucky activists will begin looking toward the November elections.
“Those people in Frankfort, those people in D.C., what we need to remember, those people work for us,” Barnett said. “If they don’t do what we want, we need to vote them out.”