By Mike McKenna

Greg Coleridge is easy to overlook, much like his cause.

Standing atop a flight of steps in Market Square Park on Cleveland’s West Side, Coleridge supports his crooked four-foot frame with a cane. It’s early April, and he is preparing for a March for Justice protest.

A member of the American Friends Service Committee (ASFC), a Quaker organization, Coleridge wears a denim jacket, jeans hiked up to his waist, glasses with thin frames, and a baseball cap. He runs ASFC’s Northeast Ohio economic and political justice programs.

Coleridge is not physically imposing, but when he speaks, it’s hard not to listen. Clutching a small speaker in one hand and a microphone in the other, he spreads his battle cry: unemployment insurance must be extended, the minimum wage must be raised, food stamps benefits should be fully restored after a recent cut.

Coleridge is friendly and energetic. His speech isn’t about blame or shame; it’s about empowering a community to make changes through grassroots efforts.

A crowd of close to 60 people has gathered to support the protest organized by the No Cuts Coalition. According to the flyers that its members are handing out, the organization is a group of Ohio residents working to prevent cuts in federal programs “that provide basic survival needs to people.” The No Cuts’ Facebook group has 15 members.

A newscaster for a local television station is in attendance. He leaves after about four interviews and 20 minutes of B-roll.

Just like the people they’re trying to help, the protestors are used to being ignored.  Many of them have marched miles through Cleveland to show their opposition to class divides. They’ve memorized dozens of chants, demanding change. Today they’re speaking out against food stamp cuts that will further slice aid for families that already live on less than $2 per meal.

Their protest is as peaceful as one can be. They’re not the typical protest group. There are no police present. The demonstrators are polite. Very polite.


After Coleridge gives the order, the crowd begins to move. The mass of bodies starts moving down W. 25th Street. On the sidewalk. They don’t have a permit to walk in the street. The group is split several times by the orange “Do Not Walk” hand. They obey all traffic laws.

The exceedingly polite protest parades by the Ohio City neighborhood Family Dollar store and down the next block, past a tavern and two banks.

The crowd is an assorted bunch, including George Stewart Robinson, a former math professor at Case Western Reserve University. Veteran activist Robinson fits the eccentric professor persona well with his long wispy white beard and Albert Einstein-esque hair. He says he’s protesting because he is a “human being.”

“Cutting food stamps, you’re depriving people of food,” Robinson emphasized. “You’re even depriving them of a good education.”

Also among the ragtag platoon is James Haberier who “doesn’t own a refrigerator” and dons a pink bandana and reindeer antlers on his head; a group of students from Kent State who are receiving class credit for being there; a middle-class family of five; and three representatives from the Industrial Workers of the World.

After marching back toward Lorain Avenue, the protestors pass the famed West Side Market and survive another treacherous street crossing. They continue west along Lorain. Many cars pass by. One or two honk, but for the most part, like the plight of those impacted by the cuts, the protest is ignored.


Unlike the NFL draft or the contentious sin tax vote, May 1 passed in Cleveland without much press coverage. Yet the date was significant to more than one in seven individuals in Ohio. It marked the sixth month since Congress ended the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), thus cutting food stamp benefits for most Americans who partake in the program.

ARRA’s food stamps program was originally set to conclude five years after its passage, but two congressional acts moved its sunset forward by over a year. Nearly all individuals on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, received an average 5 percent cut to their benefits. The average subsidy, $1.50 per person per meal, already meager, was dropped to $1.40.

And Congress isn’t necessarily done cutting yet. The House of Representatives passed a GOP budget blueprint in mid-April which would slash more than $5 trillion in government spending over the coming decade. The sharpest cuts would hit a myriad of domestic programs including food stamps and healthcare for the poor and uninsured. Proponents of the non-binding, mostly symbolic framework argue that the changes would balance the federal budget over the next decade.

By letting the ARRA expire, the federal government trimmed $5 billion in expenses for this fiscal year. While the program may seem pricey, in an era of trillions, it’s hardly a big-ticket item. According to defense analysts, $5 billion wouldn’t even buy the U.S. Air Force seven of the 100 new long-range bombers it has planned. By cutting food stamp benefits for nearly all of the 48 million Americans who use the program, the federal government saved a whopping 0.13 percent of its budget.


Arthur Price Jr., one of marchers, says he was cut off his food stamps in late 2013 as a result of already receiving around $1,000 a month in disability. The 59-year-old has been making up for the cut in assistance by taking more meals at shelters around the city, including the nearby West Side Catholic Center. He has also been working for the Street Chronicle, a newspaper run by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and sold by homeless vendors for a small profit.

“What are they cutting food stamps for?” Price asked, frustration filling his voice. “They help people when they’re down and out. Without food stamps how are people supposed to be surviving, what are people supposed to do?”

How did he react to the changes?

“I was pissed off. It’s getting harder and harder, man.”


After turning back down Lorain, the protesters pass St. Ignatius High School which straddles the gap between the trendy portion of Ohio City and a low-income part of the neighborhood. A group of middle-school lacrosse players are entering the school, probably for a game. Several of the kids snicker at the march. Members of the protest earnestly ask them to join and offer them signs. None of the lacrosse players take up the offer.

Here the chants switch from the catchy “A job is a right, we’re going to fight, fight, fight,” to the somewhat random “There’s a church, there’s a steeple, corporations are not people.”

Rounding one last corner, the crowd heads down a residential street. Residents wave out of their second-stories windows to greet the marchers.

What’s their final destination? City Hall, a police station, someone’s corporate headquarters?

Actually, they’re headed for St. Paul’s Community Church. Members of several faiths will share a meal and liturgy. The march will end with an attempt to build community, to strengthen their bonds before the next battle.

Plus, after all, it’s just the polite thing to do.

Mike McKenna is a student at Case Western Reserve University, director of print for The Observer, and vice present of Case’s Labre Homeless Outreach Ministry.
Image by EPG_EuroPhotoGraphics,