restricted access Conclusion: Creating Change on the Outskirts of Hope
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165 Conclusion Creating Change on the Outskirts of Hope In the richest nation on Earth, far too many children are still born into poverty, far too few have a fair shot to escape it, and Americans of all races and backgrounds experience wages and incomes that aren’t rising, making it harder to share in the opportunities a growing economy provides. That does not mean, as some suggest, abandoning the War on Poverty. . . . Instead, it means we must redouble our efforts to make sure our economy works for every working American. It means helping our businesses create new jobs with stronger wages and benefits, expanding access to education and health care, rebuilding those communities on the outskirts of hope, and constructing new ladders of opportunity for our people to climb. —President Barack Obama, White House 2014b1 KWRU was founded in 1991. Over the eighteen years that followed, members engaged in countless protests and helped hundreds of individuals and families who came to the office, desperate for assistance navigating an increasingly complicated public support system. Members held sit-ins, marched on picket lines, set up tent cities, and toured the country by bus to spread their message and show their members poverty’s reach. They sang together, prayed together, cooked together. They mourned the loss of longtime members to cancer, AIDS, and drug addiction. They housed homeless families in Human Rights Houses and Takeover Houses. Foundation funding allowed them to purchase some Human Rights Houses and rent others, while Takeover Houses were their extralegal response to the juxtaposed reality of thousands of homeless families in Philadelphia and thousands of vacant, abandoned homes. 166 | Conclusion Neoliberalism has been a growing fact of life in the nation and around the world since before this distinctive organization was founded. KWRU exists in opposition to a society that, as Silva describes, has economic and emotional spheres that are “mutually confirming,” that tend to isolate the poor and blame them for their poverty, even as barriers to upward mobility have mounted.2 It makes people feel responsible for their own success, but also for their own happiness, even as it isolates them and therefore makes social connection that could bring happiness all the more elusive. KWRU provides an alternative, though limited resources constrain the aid it can offer. In 2009 the organization lost its large foundation funding and its dedicated office space on North 5th Street. But its founder, director, and other key activists continued their efforts in other ways, and it is stunning that ties built through the organization were sustained through this crisis (and as they made clear to me in 2014–2016, those ties sustained them through this crisis). The need KWRU has served has certainly persisted; to cite one metric, the number of food stamp recipients in the United States rose by about 10 million between 2007 and 2009—reflecting consequences of the Great Recession—feeding one in eight Americans and nearly one in four children . In Philadelphia there was a 14 percent increase in the number of recipients, so that in 2009 26 percent of the population was receiving benefits under SNAP (the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program ).3 In 2013 SNAP usage hit a high of 47.6 million families nationwide . While it fell to 45.8 million in 2015, this number still represents a large increase over prior decades.4 In 2014, eight years after concluding my research, I connect with several organization leaders to talk about what’s changed for the group. I learn that in 2009 KWRU effectively merged with the PPEHRC, an organization it spearheaded over a decade earlier. PPEHRC (called “P-Perk” by its members) works on political advocacy and shares KWRU’s goals of ending poverty. Rather than focusing only on helping individuals and growing membership, they aim to educate the poor about human rights and become politically engaged. “This is our life,” a member tells me, of the continuing efforts. In 2014 they are planning the U.S. Social Forum for 2015, a gathering of social justice activists aiming to build a broad movement.5 Galen Tyler, who had been the director of KWRU, invites me to come to a Conclusion | 167 planning event for the Forum, and I make my way to an office in Center City, Philadelphia, on a bright August day. Another organization has provided PPEHRC and others planning the 2015 U.S. Social Forum the use of its space, including large conference rooms. About seventy-five people representing over twenty...


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