A right to thrive, not just survive FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Thu, 7 May 1998 15:28:36 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  from People's Tribune (Online Edition),
     Vol. 25 No. 5 / May, 1998


[Editor's note: Fifty years ago, the United Nations ratified the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes provisions
obligating governments to guarantee the health and well-being --
the economic rights -- of their citizens. A number of
organizations and individuals in the United States are now engaged
in campaigning to promote the idea that we have economic human
rights. One of the leading organizations in this effort is the
National Welfare Rights Union.  The campaign includes documenting
the abuses of our economic rights. The article below was submitted
by Joy Butts, a member of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union's
War Council and coordinator of the Economic Human Rights
Documentation Project of the Poor People's Embassy.]

We at the Poor People's Embassy believe that all human beings

*  A right to an existence worthy of human dignity;

*  A right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness;

*  A right to thrive, not just barely survive.

Yet, in this country: mothers go so undernourished that they have
no breast milk with which to feed their babies; farm workers find
themselves living in caves and cardboard boxes because they are so
poorly paid; veterans of foreign wars and workers who put in a
good 40 years of service in major corporations and factories are
downsized and in their old age can't pay for the proper health
care they deserve; and welfare recipients forced into workfare
positions receive only their welfare checks for laboring in
sanitation departments without any safety regulations. These are
just a few of the clear and glaring examples of the economic human
rights violations we are finding in far too great numbers across
the nation.

What are economic human rights?  They are the rights to food,
housing, clothing, health care, education and the right to a job
at a living wage. Articles 23, 25 and 26 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), ratified by the United States
and many other countries in 1948, speak to these economic human

For the most part, these rights have been forgotten here at home,
while our government points its finger at countries all around the
world.  The 50th anniversary of the UDHR offers us the opportunity
to educate the American people about the fact that they have
economic human rights and that these rights are being violated by
welfare reform, downsizing, cuts in education funding and more.

Why are we collecting economic human rights documentation?  We
want to focus the attention, discussion and action of the American
people on the pain and suffering of increasing numbers of our
brothers and sisters.  We want to put this reality right in front
of the American people and world public opinion. The American
Dream has become a nightmare and it's time to document and make
known this reality before it is too late.

Corporations are making super profits from mergers and relocations
to countries where they pay cheaper wages and don't have to worry
about environmental standards, labor regulations and pensions.
Yet, rather than look at corporate welfare and profits, there are
those who would have us continue to look at welfare recipients as
the ones to blame for all their own hardships and the problems of
the rest of us.  We intend to point the blame where it belongs,
not where it far too often falls.

The significance of the compelling cases of economic human rights
violations can not be seen in the stories alone.  Their
significance lies in the fact that these cases represent hundreds
of thousands, even millions of lives being shattered by our
current economic and political situation. The reality is that in
this country we've got entire communities, cities and even states
that, due to the extent and intensity of human misery and
exploitation found there, qualify as economic human rights
violations.  We can tolerate this no longer.

Focusing attention on these real life issues allows us to speak to
the root causes and real solutions to these problems. We intend to
assist people in looking at individual cases in the context of an
economic system that creates these miseries and a government that
defends and protects this economic system.

To allow these experiences to remain untold, is to accept the
incorrect notion that we are to blame for the violence perpetrated
against us. To tell these stories, to pull them together into a
package, is to deny this myth and to begin to paint another
picture for the American people.  When 13 percent of the American
population controls 95 percent of the wealth, we can see clearly
that we've got a class problem, a problem of the haves against the
have-nots.  When these stories are told, they join a process of
indicting an economic and political system that no longer works
for increasing segments of the population.

In gathering our stories, we push forward the process of gathering
ourselves.  Through this documentation project these cases move
from being isolated and silent experiences of pain and suffering,
to being an essential part of a major effort to end this poverty
and human misery once and for all.

[For more information on how to document economic human rights
abuses occurring in your area or to people you know, write the
Poor People's Embassy at P.O. Box 50678, Philadelphia, PA 19132,
or call 215-203-1945.]