Human Rights on Wheels

By Katz, Alyssa | The Nation, December 28, 1998 | Go to article overview

Human Rights on Wheels


Katz, Alyssa, The Nation


TOURING THE COUNTRY BY BUS, A PHILADELPHIA GROUP DOCUMENTS SOCIAL INJUSTICE.

It was pretty much the same everywhere, all month long. A bus stopped in a housing project/barrio/shut-down downtown/coal-mining county/postindustrial brownfield and disgorged about fifty riders into the June air. The people blinking in the sunlight wore gray-and-white camouflage pants and a T-shirt advertising "Economic Human Rights Campaign: New Freedom Bus Tour." If you squinted, you could also read its call to "JOIN POOR AND HOMELESS PEOPLE IN THIS HISTORIC TOUR TO DOCUMENT AND PROTEST THE HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS CAUSED BY WELFARE REFORM."

Backed up by a posse of hyperenergetic college students and recent graduates, the core of the bus-riding crew consisted of three dozen adults, teenagers and kids: some homeless, some just the other side of homelessness, some born not so long ago into the economic margins, and all but the very youngest angry enough to commit themselves to changing the conditions that have kept them there. They had put aside their personal problems to spend a month traveling around the country in a crowded bus, clothes stowed in garbage bags and children running up and down the sticky aisle, holding their nose on the days when the toilet was clogged.

They are members of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU), and the tour was the most ambitious project of the organization's yearlong campaign coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. When the UN commemorated the official milestone on December 10, there were high-level bows to political and civil rights, but among US congratulators, virtual silence on economic rights. For years human fights activists have aimed to correct this imbalance, and KWRU has joined them. An eight-year-old Philadelphia organization that's gained notoriety for its gutsy, sometimes illegal actions fighting the political abandonment of the poor, KWRU is working to redefine poverty from an issue of personal misfortune to one of social injustice. On the road this summer, it was doing what human rights workers always do: documenting abuse.

One by one, over and over at each stop, poor people and human rights advocates walked to the front of church basements, government office buildings and open-air podiums to tell wrenching stories: about the Milwaukee woman whose disabled son was scalded to death in the bath while she was working at Pizza Hut; the El Paso woman who was almost deported to Mexico for using her dead husband's food stamps without state permission; the young Idaho mother who was dropped from the rolls, like 77 percent of Idaho's recipients, and now depends on food banks. KWRU gathered hundreds of such testimonials.

Turning up the volume and the visibility of poor people has been one of KWRU's tactics from its inception. In 1995 it set up a homeless encampment that transformed a Philadelphia lot into an open sore on the public conscience. The campers moved into an abandoned church for winter and also participated in a mass takeover of vacant HUD buildings; then they marched from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, where they slept in the Statehouse rotunda for six weeks to protest cuts in assistance for childless adults. Currently, KWRU claims roughly 200 committed members, who pay $5 in yearly dues, and some thirty core activists. In its outreach, consisting largely of handing out fliers and offering advice at welfare offices, KWRU pitches the value of collective action to prospective members. "Together, we can get educated about welfare reform and about our fights," says one piece of literature. "When you join a union, there's more chances for your needs to be met. There are more people looking out for you, and you can contribute by looking out for other people."

When it became clear that guaranteed aid to the poor would soon be a memory and organized opposition was nowhere to be found, KWRU saw an opportunity for channeling pain and isolation into just such collective action. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Human Rights on Wheels
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.