Other Group

The National Welfare Rights Organization

Type:

Advocacy Group

Founded:

1966

Defunct:

1975

The National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) is a defunct left-wing advocacy group which was active from 1966 to 1975 and pushed for the expansion of taxpayer-funded handouts, particularly to women, children, and ethnic minority groups. The NWRO specifically demanded welfare payments large enough for recipients to simultaneously engage in political activism and maintain a sufficient household income.

The organization was formed from several ongoing pressure campaigns which started in the early to mid-1960s and included 75 local activist groups, which organized a conference in Chicago in August 1966 and formed the National Coordinating Committee of Welfare Rights groups. From this alliance emerged the NWRO, which at its height claimed to have at least 20,000 dues-paying members, most of them Black women. [1]

History

While some fractions within the welfare movement of the 1960s simply pushed for the expansion and increase of government unemployment benefits, others were more radical, demanding the removal of criteria such as the recipient actively seeking work and even calling for a universal taxpayer-funded basic income. The National Welfare Rights Organization, one of the further-left groups within the movement, may have had as many as 25,000 dues-paying members. The organization was founded by Johnnie Tillmon, a divorced mother of six children and the head of a group called Aid to Needy Children Mothers Anonymous, together with civil rights activist George Wiley. Together, they conducted protest marches, staged sit-ins at welfare offices, and engaged in legal activism for nearly a decade before internal conflicts between Tillmon, Wiley, and their respective supporters collapsed it and public backlash drove the movement into decline. [2] [3]

While various further-left groups continued to push for welfare expansion, the new hesitancy of moderates and mainstream liberals to engage with the increasingly unpopular issue eventually led to Democratic President Bill Clinton signing an aggressive welfare reform bill in 1996. [4] [5]

Leadership

Johnnie Tillmon was the founder of the National Welfare Rights Organization. She formed the group Aid to Needy Children Mothers Anonymous in 1963 to protect allegedly unfair and excessive standards to qualify for welfare benefits. George Wiley was a former activist with the Congress of Racial Equality who, by the 1960s, had assembled a coalition of pro-government handout groups. In 1966, Tillmon brought her own organization into the alliance, forming the NWRO. By the mid-1970s, however, conflicts had emerged between Tillmon, who mainly relied on the support of welfare-recipient women, and Wiley, whose activists managed the finances and national organization. [6] [7]

By then, Tillmon had also decided to align the organization with the feminist movement, while Wiley instead attempted to recruit blue-collar, working-class men. Tillmon fully took over after Wiley ultimately resigned in 1972, but under her leadership, the NWRO struggled financially until it finally shut down in 1975. Tillmon would continue to work on various welfare expansion efforts until her death in 1995. [8] Wiley would go on to become involved with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) – the now-defunct voter mobilization and welfare advocacy group which shut down in 2010 following a series of scandals. [9] [10]

Successor

In June 1987, a new organization called the National Welfare Rights Union (NWRU) formed, claiming to be a revived version of the NWRO. The NWRU claims to have organized several marches and sit-ins throughout the 1990s but has maintained a minimal online presence throughout the early 2000s. [11]

References

  1. “National Welfare Rights Organization.” VCU Libraries Social Welfare History Project. Accessed December 18, 2022. https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/organizations/national-welfare-rights-organization ^
  2. Gene Demby. “The Mothers Who Fought To Radically Reimagine Welfare.” NPR. June 9, 2019. Accessed December 18, 2022. https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2019/06/09/730684320/the-mothers-who-fought-to-radically-reimagine-welfare ^
  3. “Johnnie Tillmon.” BlackPast. January 23, 2007. Accessed December 18, 2022. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/tillmon-johnnie-1926-1995/ ^
  4. Gene Demby. “The Mothers Who Fought To Radically Reimagine Welfare.” NPR. June 9, 2019. Accessed December 18, 2022. https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2019/06/09/730684320/the-mothers-who-fought-to-radically-reimagine-welfare ^
  5. “Johnnie Tillmon.” BlackPast. January 23, 2007. Accessed December 18, 2022. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/tillmon-johnnie-1926-1995/ ^
  6. Marian Kramer. “From the Co-President’s Desk…” National Welfare Rights Union. October 2008. Accessed December 18, 2022. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1EXcyytFzxGX4aICFhlVTyEojsSdD199r/view ^
  7. “ACORN plans to shut down,” CNN. March 22, 2010. Accessed December 19, 2022. http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/03/22/us.acorn.closing/index.html ^
  8. “Johnnie Tillmon.” BlackPast. January 23, 2007. Accessed December 18, 2022. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/tillmon-johnnie-1926-1995/ ^
  9. Marian Kramer. “From the Co-President’s Desk…” National Welfare Rights Union. October 2008. Accessed December 18, 2022. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1EXcyytFzxGX4aICFhlVTyEojsSdD199r/view ^
  10. “ACORN plans to shut down,” CNN. March 22, 2010. Accessed December 19, 2022. http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/03/22/us.acorn.closing/index.html ^
  11. Marian Kramer. “From the Co-President’s Desk…” National Welfare Rights Union. October 2008. Accessed December 18, 2022. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1EXcyytFzxGX4aICFhlVTyEojsSdD199r/view ^
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