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Kensington Welfare Rights Union

The United States is the richest country in the world, with a GDP per capita of $37,000. (CIA) Despite this wealth, our country’s riches remain unequally distributed. A recent report put the rate of poverty in the US at 12.1-percent. The incidence of poverty is higher among people of color than among whites, with 8-percent of white Americans and 23.9-percent of black Americans living in poverty. And poverty continues to hit children hard, with some 16.7-percent of American children growing up in poor households. (US Census) Behind these statistics are actual people who struggle each day to make ends meet. What can poor Americans do to achieve their fundamental economic rights? They can organize into groups like the Kensington Welfare Rights Union.

The Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU), based in North Philadelphia (PA), is “a multi-racial organization of, by and for poor and homeless people”. KWRU believes that poor people have a right to thrive, not merely survive. In the words of Willie Baptist, KWRU’s Education Director, “you only get what you’re organized to take”, and so KWRU organizes welfare recipients, the homeless, and the working poor to fight for economic justice.

How does KWRU do this? First, KWRU makes the voices of the poor heard. Members of KWRU are committed to telling the story of what is happening in poor communities throughout the US and have spoken out at welfare offices, college campuses, religious congregations, union halls, and during Congressional welfare reform hearings. Second, KWRU helps poor people meet their basic needs. KWRU has assisted families in obtaining shelter and utilities, has set up “tent cities” for the homeless in Philadelphia, and has created “Human Rights Houses” which provide shelter, distribute free food and clothing, and offer free medical care. Third, KWRU works on the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, a broad-based movement that addresses the issue of poverty as a human rights violation. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family….” The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign is working to hold the United States accountable for violating these rights, with KWRU gathering evidence of economic human rights abuses throughout the US.

KWRU’s Education Director Willie Baptist says that any effort to organize the poor in the fight against poverty requires five main ingredients. First, it requires teams of organizers who are poor and understand the key issues around which poor people will mobilize. Second, it requires a base of operations where people can meet to collectively address their needs. Third, it requires lines of communication through which information about the struggle can be shared. Fourth, it requires mutual support networks (KWRU is aligned with labor unions and student groups, among others). Finally, it requires a core group of committed people who can strategize, are politically savvy, and are committed to a long-term struggle.

Contact Group: Kensington Welfare Rights Union

Address: P.O. Box 50678
Philadelphia, PA 19132

Phone: 215-203-1945

Fax: 215-203-1950

Web site: http://www.kwru.org