On a sunny Saturday morning, in May of 1994, a group of people, mostly women – some homeless, many on-welfare, and plenty who were unemployed – came together so that their voices might be heard. For too long, they had been shut out of the halls of power, denied a seat at the table, and trampled by both those who openly targeted the poor and those who claimed to advocate on their behalf. They were tired of a government that showed them nothing but neglect and malice. For these brave people it was now or never. No longer would the decision makers be allowed to maintain their power at the expense of the most unfortunate – the poor, women, and people of color.
At our expense.
In 1994, we said enough was enough.
We were united, motivated, and organized. We had no choice. Between 1993 and 1996, attacks on the poor were especially vicious, shrouded in lies and misinformation. Proposals to eliminate aid to poor families and children were gaining momentum and support. The radical right demonized us in order to shore up power among the middle class, eventually taking over Congress. Lawmakers were publicly discussing the option of forcing poor women to live in labor houses, making them “work off” their food and shelter. Those elected to represent us were considering supporting legislation that would put the children of women on welfare into orphanages. They told the world that we were mismanaging our money, that we were liars and cheats.
Together we demanded to be heard. We spoke up. Loudly. We reminded the world that women on welfare were going to college despite the retrogressive cycle of public assistance that demands women get off welfare without helping them find the skills and training to do so. We reminded the world that most women on welfare were in fact white and that most of us were working part time or using welfare for unemployment relief. We showed the world that we were real people, mothers with children, families with friends and neighbors. From that first 1994 meeting of 80 people, Community Voices Heard emerged and would eventually become one of the leading organizations working for economic justice in the country.