For the fourth straight week, Missouri Poor People's Campaign protesters rallied outside the state Capitol on Monday as the series of protests for economic justice continued.
Demonstrators called for an end to environmental practices they said harm poor and minority populations. Jefferson City Police cited about a dozen protesters at the event.
The Missouri Rural Crisis Center represents more than 5,600 farming families around the state. MRCC President Carol Smith said pollution from power plants disproportionately impact neighborhoods where minority families live.
"We know we can build a better future," Smith said. "As family farmers and rural Missourians, we know we share a struggle with people."
In 2012, a Yale University study found the greater the concentration of black, Asian and Hispanic residents, the more likely it is that dangerous compounds like vanadium, nitrates and zinc are to be found in air particles residents breathe. Latino people had the highest exposure to these particles, the study found. White residents had the lowest. St. Louis, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh were among the cities with unhealthy levels of fine particles and large populations of poor minorities.
John Schiele serves as director at Jerusalem Farm Kansas City, a nonprofit community group in Kansas City. Schiele told the crowd the environment is a collective good that is the responsibility of everyone to take care of.
"At a time when regulations are being rolled back nationwide in regard to protecting our air, soil and water, we are here today to say that all of creation is sacred," Schiele said. "This is a moral issue."
Ameren Missouri outlined a plan in September to spend more than $1 billion and add at least 700 megawatts of wind energy generation in Missouri and neighboring states by 2020. The Poor People's Campaign called for power companies to build more renewable energy sources.
"We don't need to live and work and go to school by coal- and gas-fired power plants," Missouri Sierra Club member Kevin Grooms said. "The time is now for 100 percent clean, renewable energy and a public jobs program to transition to a green economy."
Protesters also called for better access to safe drinking water sources. In August USA Today found over the past decade more than 63 million Americans might have been exposed to unsafe drinking water. Many local water treatment plants, especially in small, poor and minority communities, can't afford to filter out contaminants, according to USA Today.
Doug Alpert, president of Missouri Health Care for All, said because Missouri failed to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, poor people are suffering. He also said environmental justice is tied to poverty.
Alpert said the campaign's goal is to shed light on issues involving poor people who don't get attention. The four protests so far have focused on racial equality, economic quality, U.S. military spending and now environmental justice.
Alpert said issues involving poor communities went unheard in 2016 elections.
"That's what this campaign is all about: to give a voice to poor people. In the last election, you didn't hear any politician talk about poverty and the poor other than to demonize it."
Jefferson City Police Department officers cited about a dozen people during Monday's demonstration as they blocked the intersection of West High and Broadway streets. A few dozen protesters participated in Monday's march through downtown Jefferson City. The campaign is meant to emulate Martin Luther King Jr.'s Poor People's Campaign.
The Missouri Poor People's Campaign will hold two more rallies June 11 and June 18 in the downtown area. Next Monday's protest will hit on labor issues like August's right-to-work referendum, Alpert said. A national convention will take place June 23 in Washington, D.C.