Other Group

Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU)

Formation:

1991

Type:

Activist Group

Founders:

Alexis Baptist, Sandy Brennan, Diane Coyett, Cheri Honkala, Louis Mayberry, and Debra Witzman

Director:

Cheri Honkala

Part of:

Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC)

Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU) is a left-of-center Philadelphia-based anti-poverty activist group that organizes poor and homeless people for demonstrations concerning welfare and housing. [1]

According to the website for the Green Party, KWRU became part of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC), a network its members helped found. [2]

Background

Kensington Welfare Rights Union was founded in 1991 by six women (Alexis Baptist, Sandy Brennan, Diane Coyett, Cheri Honkala, Louis Mayberry, and Debra Witzman), all of whom were receiving welfare benefits in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. They collectively “took over” the office of the Department of Public Welfare and were subsequently arrested and imprisoned. Their trial was covered by the national media, and they turned spectacle to their advantage, gaining notoriety for their cause of fighting poverty in Kensington. They were ultimately found not guilty. [3]

Activities

The six women, acting together as Kensington Welfare Rights Union, continued to fight legal battles against the city of Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania, labeling their crusade a fight for survival. Authors Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel speculated that their anti-poverty cause attracted support since it was ostensibly led by the poor themselves. [4]

KWRU took cues from an older organization, National Union of the Homeless, by organizing homeless people for political demonstrations demanding certain economic welfare policies. A 1995 “tent city protest” in Philadelphia featuring support from KWRU influenced a 1996 demonstration in which eighty homeless families seized the abandoned St. Edward’s Church in north Philadelphia. The demonstration allegedly led to victories in the affordable housing movement. [5]

In 1999, KWRU contributed to the founding of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC), a socialist-aligned campaign that advocates for economic redistribution. [6] PPEHRC began to contribute to local advocacy efforts and political events with planning, support, technical assistance, and mobilizing its members during actions. [7] It eventually became a network of nonprofit organizations and community groups involved in the left-progressive movement. [8] As of 2022, KWRU co-founder Cheri Honkala was still organizing actions through PPEHRC. [9]

In an essay entitled “Using Economic Human Rights in the Movement to End Poverty: The Kensington Welfare Rights Union and the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign,” KWRU co-founder Cheri Honkala along with Mary Bricker-Jenkins and Carrie Young explain their political philosophy. They assert that so-called economic human rights ought to be legally at the same level as “civil and political rights,” arguing that human rights are essentially unenforced if “economic human rights” are not included. [10]

Leadership

Kensington Welfare Rights Union was founded in 1991 by six women: Alexis Baptist, Sandy Brennan, Diane Coyett, Cheri Honkala, Louis Mayberry, and Debra Witzman. [11] Cheri Honkala has extensive involvement in left-of-center organizations and has run for political office in the past, including a bid for vice president on a Green Party ticket with Jill Stein as the presidential candidate in 2012. [12]

References

  1. Baptist, Willie; Colangelo, Kristin. “Power, Not Pity: The Poor Organizing the Poor to Abolish Poverty (Part 1).” University of the Poor. Accessed 19 July 2022. https://universityofthepoor.org/power-not-pity-the-poor-organizing-the-poor-to-abolish-poverty/. ^
  2. “Cheri Honkala.” Green Party. Accessed 19 July 2022. https://www.gp.org/cheri_honkala_sb. ^
  3. [1] Rev. Salvatierra, Alexia; Heltzel, Peter. Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World. InterVarsity Press, 6 December 2013. 58-59. ^
  4. Rev. Salvatierra, Alexia; Heltzel, Peter. Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World. InterVarsity Press, 6 December 2013. 59. ^
  5. Rev. Salvatierra, Alexia; Heltzel, Peter. Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World. InterVarsity Press, 6 December 2013. 59. ^
  6. Rev. Salvatierra, Alexia; Heltzel, Peter. Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World. InterVarsity Press, 6 December 2013. 60. ^
  7. “Who We Are.” Poor People’s Army. Accessed 18 July 2022. https://poorpeoplesarmy.com/#WHOWEARE. ^
  8. Rev. Salvatierra, Alexia; Heltzel, Peter. Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World. InterVarsity Press, 6 December 2013. 60. ^
  9. “Who We Are.” Poor People’s Army. Accessed 18 July 2022. https://web.archive.org/web/20220718162455/https://poorpeoplesarmy.com/ ^
  10. Bricker-Jenkins, Mary; Honkala, Cher; Young, Carrie. “Using Economic Human Rights in the Movement to End Poverty: The Kensington Welfare Rights Union and the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign,” in Challenges in Human Rights: A Social Work Perspective. Ed. Elisabeth Reichert. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007, p. 122-137. https://books.google.com/books?id=o7OrAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA122#v=onepage&q&f=false. ^
  11. Rev. Salvatierra, Alexia; Heltzel, Peter. Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World. InterVarsity Press, 6 December 2013. 58-59. ^
  12. [1] “Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala on Third-Party Politics.” BillMoyers, 7 September 2012. Accessed 19 July 2022. https://billmoyers.com/segment/jill-stein-and-cheri-honkala-on-third-party-politics/. ^
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