Day 6 Economic Human Rights Freedom Bus Update/KWRU FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 7 Jun 1998 22:49:52 -0700 (PDT)


FWD  CC Replies to Kensington Welfare Rights Union <kwru@libertynet.org>
[Pictures and more information are available on our website:
http://www.libertynet.org/kwru ]


  Economic Human Rights Freedom Bus Update - June 6, 1998

  Day 6 of the Freedom From Unemployment, Hunger and Homelessness Bus Tour!

  Bradshaw and Welch, West Virginia


They discovered coal in McDowell County around the turn of the century
.  At its peak in the 1950's, over 100,000 people worked here,
extracting billions of dollars of the world's finest coal.  Coal of such
high quality that McDowell coal has been used to produce the finest
steel in the country.  Today, all those jobs are gone.  But the coal
hasn't stopped flowing.  In fact, coal production is at an all-time
high, while employment is at an all time low.  High-tech production has
left this community with unemployment rates in excess of 90%.  McDowell
County has the fifth highest poverty rate in the country and 60% of its
children live in poverty.  As the jobs disappeared, so have the people.
Today, less than 30,000 people live here.  Seven out of ten people have
been forced to leave.  Some, like Frances Patton-Rutherford,  have
families that have lived on this land for three centuries, and aren't
prepared to leave.  At our rally at Bradshaw City Hall she said:

"I have lived my life in loss.  We've lost families.  We've lost jobs.
We've lost schools.  We've lost our water system.  This is our home.
This is where we want to live.  We don't want to go to North Carolina to
work part time for Burger King, which someone in my family did last
week.  Many don't have the resources to leave.  We are trying to get
together and figure out a future here.

"In a country as wealthy as ours, it is unabidable this growing
divergence between rich and poor, between children who can see a doctor
when they are sick, between children who can live in a safe house,
between children who can get a quality education.  We can do better.
I'm not willing to give up on my community or my country."

Frances is a board member of the Big Creek People in Action and
coordinator of the McDowell Family Resource Center.

Cheri Honkala, Freedom Rider and director of the Kensington Welfare
Rights Union addressed the rally:

"We are here today in McDowell County to be with the good people of West
Virginia.  We bring you greetings from poor and homeless people across
the nation.  We are here today not to speak on behalf of the poor-
because we are the poor.  What has happened to us that we won't even ask
for food stamps?  My mom didn't want to ask for food stamps, she felt
ashamed, afraid that she had somehow failed.  I want you all to repeat
after me:

 "I'm poor and I count!

"I'm poor and I count!

"I'm poor and I count!"

"We are the ones today, right now, that don't know how we're going to
make it through these next six months- let alone this next year.  We are
here to hear from all of you here in West Virginia- to take your very
important struggles for survival to the United Nations- not to beg for a
future, but to demand a future for all of us.

"Today marks a historic beginning in which we poor folks from the North
begin to hook up with poor folks from the South to let nothing divide
us.  To work together to create a new society free from hunger and
poverty.  As there is a piece of steel from McDowell County in all parts
of the country, we will take the steel foundation of the leaders in
McDowell county and use it to inspire all poor people throughout the
nation to stand up and be heard, to speak for ourselves and to no longer
be silent.  These are our families- our voices are needed.

"For years both the Republican and Democratic parties have been telling
us one thing before election day and another the day after they are
elected.  They tell us to get off the dole- yet they don't create the
jobs we need and that's why we are promoting the Labor Party's Right to
a Job at a Living Wage Campaign.  We are calling for a 28th Amendment to
the Constitution saying if you want us to work, give us a job that pays
a living wage.

"From every holler to every housing project, we will inspire our sisters
and brothers to leave their homes and join the fight.

"Together we must stand.

"Together we build courage.

"Together we will win."

Several people from McDowell County were joined by Freedom Riders in
giving testimonials to economic human rights violations they are
currently enduring.  Rick Wilson of the American Friends Service
Committee spoke first about the long history of struggle and resistance
to oppression by the people of West Virginia.  He went on to explain the
specifics of welfare reform in West Virginia.  West Virginia is one of
only five states which elected to count Supplemental Security Income
(SSI) as family income.  This decision, which affects at least 20,000
low income West Virginians, was made by administrators at DHHR, and not
by democratically elected officials.  As a result of this policy, any
family in which a member receives SSI payments for a disability is
effectively denied state cash assistance.

Wilson gave some examples of the effects of welfare reform in West
Virginia.  A family of nine lost state cash assistance due to SSI.  They
were forced to give up their home and move in with relatives. A father
of five who is disabled and is the primary caregiver lost state cash
assistance when welfare reform went into effect.  The family's furniture
was subsequently repossessed by a rent to own company.  One family began
receiving SSI when the father became paralyzed in an accident.  Through
AFDC and SSI, they were able to survive and buy a mobile home.  Welfare
reform went into effect and they now face the prospect of losing their
home.

The rally closed with an unexpected surprise:  some of the young people
on the Freedom Bus wrote and performed a song together.  Here are the
lyrics:

"We are going on the bus
We are marching for our lives
We are going on a bus
For Freedom

We want you to listen
We want you to hear
Our stories are important
To live without fear

We need our rights
For we are human
We need our rights
For we are children
We need our rights!"

The Freedom Bus is on its way to Durham, North Carolina.

---

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NUHHCE, AFSCME, AFL-CIO
PO Box 50678
Philadelphia, PA 19132-9720
215/203-1945
215/203-1950 FAX
email: kwru@libertynet.org
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