(en) DAMN: coverage of KWRU March

Jay (jay@tao.ca)
Tue, 24 Jun 1997 07:52:02 +1000


A AA AAAA The A-Infos News Service AA AA AA AA INFOSINFOSINFOS http://www.tao.ca/ainfos/ AAAA AAAA AAAAA AAAAA

KENSINGTON WELFARE RIGHTS UNION KICKS OFF 125-MILE, 10-DAY MARCH TO THE UN TO PROTEST WELFARE "REFORM" by Kate Duncan for the Direct Action Media Network (You may access this report and a photo on the web at DAMN's temporary site at "http://www.worldmedia.com/madness/directtest/kwru1.htm". Philadelphia's Radio Mutiny and Scribe Video will be providing audio and video coverage of the march respectively. Their reports are not yet up, but don't despair!--As the DAMN network develops and as we cover more events, we will be able to have the audio, video and print reports up at the same time. By the way, photos are now available of the Boston anti-gentrification protest that DAMN covered last week. Check them out at "http://www.worldmedia.com/madness/directtest/hnj4.htm".)

On Saturday June 21 at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, The Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU) put its foot down at the kick-off rally of a 125-mile, 10-day march from the Liberty Bell to the United Nations in New York City to protest recent federal and state welfare reform laws. After hearing from KWRU Director Cheri Honkala, clergy, organized labor, social service providers, students, community leaders, recovery organizations and politicians, about 130 people in army fatigues and t-shirts reading "March For Our Lives" began their march two-by-two across the Ben Franklin Bridge into New Jersey chanting, "Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Poverty has got to go!"

The march will stop to protest at various places en route, including the Trenton Statehouse at 11 am on March 23, at the Elizabeth welfare office at 1 pm on March 26, at the Newark Medical Center at 3 pm on March 27, on Wall Street on June 30, and finally at the United Nations on July 1. To march their point home, they're carrying a 40 pound coffin-shaped box filled with documentation of the deaths and misery caused by poverty. "These are some of the hardest working poor people I've ever met in my life," said Ms Honkala. "And they say we don't work!"

The march and protests are "not about welfare reform," Henry Nicholas National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees President told the crowd of 300 plus, "because in fact we did not have welfare reform. We had welfare repeal, and we've got to recognize that." KWRU organized the march to send the message that the recent welfare "reform" legislation is a violation of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, specifically articles 23, 25 and 26 (see below for text). The United States signed the document on December 10, 1948.

KWRU is bringing attention to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because, according to Director Cheri Honkala, we can no longer trust that local and federal legislation will solve the problem. The Union's 140-mile march last summer to Pennsylvania's capitol did not even induce the governor to speak with them (although a senator did buy them lunch). "The problem we're facing in America is a world problem, and in order to truly understand what's happening in this world we need to study what's happening on an international level," said Ms. Honkala.

"They would much rather have us focused just on what's happening here locally," Ms. Honkala continued. "They would prefer if our analysis was limited to just welfare reform, and if we thought the problem was just a few mean-spirited people in Washington. But the truth is, you can't understand the impact on a local level without understanding how it fits into a global economy. The folks responsible for denying us the basic human rights here at home are the same gang that is starving people all over the world. That's why KWRU is in the business of linking up: We understand that the only thing we have in the end to win this war is each other."

"Linking up" was a theme of the kick-off rally as various speakers urged their organizations and the crowd to join forces to relieve the strains of poverty. Ursula Bishoff, a social worker at the University of Pennsylvania, told the crowd, "I think it's time for social workers to organize so that we can work together in an effective partnership with people in need." Marilyn Clemens of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom encouraged, "There are not hundreds of groups organizing, there are thousands of groups organizing across the country. The White House is beginning to be alarmed as they are becoming aware." Phil Wider of the Underground Railroad, an organization of concerned citizens who support the KWRU, urged people to work under the leadership of those most affected by poverty and welfare reform. "The idea is that the people who are hurting will know best when their pain is alleviated," he said.

Ms. Bishoff said most people are aware of the strain poverty produces, though some choose to ignore it. "We all know that there are never enough jobs to go around. The way this economy works, unemployment is structured into the system. When people commit suicide, when domestic violence and homelessness increases, and when people have to live in substandard housing and die in fires at the same time that social welfare policy makers are wondering how to monitor the effect of welfare cuts, something is very, very wrong." Willie Baptist, a member of the KWRU war council, said public knowledge is increasing even as poverty itself is increasing: "Every American is beginning to understand that they are one paycheck away or one health crisis away from being poor and homeless themselves."

That's why, said Henry Nicholas, "Those of us who know what time it is have a duty to put justice above safety, to put justice above pride, to make justice the key word as we march to the United Nations. We cannot be concerned about what this may do to us tomorrow, because in truth, tomorrow is today " Nicholas then donated $500 to the marcher's umbrella fund, noting that the forecast was for three days of rain. The National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, of which Nicholas is President, provided most of the material and financial needs for the march. Other supplies, such as food, socks, batteries, sunscreen and bandages, are being donated along the way.

Before moving on to New Jersey, KWRU presented "Liberty Bell Awards" to photographer Harvey Finkel, who has worked with KWRU for six years "so that we can tell the stories of poor homeless people in America"; to the Lehigh Avenue Neighbors, who offered their lot to KWRU for shacks when the City of Philadelphia had KWRU members arrested for doing so; to Katie Ingall, President of KWRU who is too sick to march; and to Henry Nicholas.

The Kensington Welfare Rights Union is a multi-racial membership organization of welfare recipients, homeless, and working poor people and their allies. KWRU is committed to organizing poor people and all people concerned with economic justice to meet the immediate survival needs of poor people and build a movement to end poverty in the United States. KWRU believes that the unity and organization of the poor must be at the forefront of this movement. It is a chapter of the National Welfare Rights Union; an affiliate of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, AFSCME, AFL-CIO; and an affiliate of the Labor Party.

For daily updates and information on the march, or to find out how you can help (they need bodies and supplies), call (215) 763-4584 or email kwru@libertynet.org.

Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 23. (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25. (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26. (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages Elementary education shall be compulsory Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

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