Making Democratic Space for Poor People: The Kensington Welfare Rights Union

  • Diana Zoelle
  • Jyl J. Josephson


In north Philadelphia in the summer of 1995, a multiracial group of welfare mothers, members of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, set up a tent city on the lot of a Quaker Lace factory that had recently been the victim of arson. This event was the culmination of a series of events that can be seen as part of the U.S. context of the consequences of economic globalization. As journalist David Zucchino put it:

In many ways, the arrival of welfare mothers at Quaker Lace was a fitting coda for the old factory and everything it represented about North Philadelphia’s ongoing industrial decline. The collapse of manufacturing and the evaporation of blue-collar jobs had helped give rise to the illegal drug trade. Those who sold drugs had torched the Quaker Lace ruins, which in turn had provided a new home for another unfortunate byproduct of the area’s economic collapse—welfare recipients. It was like a forest fire that cleared out old growth and made way for new vegetation. (Zucchino 1997, 59)


Foreign Policy Poor People Civil Disobedience Virtual Tour Economic Human 
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© Janie Leatherman and Julie Webber 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Diana Zoelle
  • Jyl J. Josephson

There are no affiliations available

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