The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC) had its origins with the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU) in Philadelphia. In June 1998, KWRU organized its first national bus tour to highlight the issues of poverty and economic human rights. The bus made stops in communities across the country as it traveled from the east coast to the west coast and back. At each of the stops they met with individuals and groups, and documented stories and involved residents to work to end poverty through ensuring economic human right for all (the rights to food, clothing, housing, health care, education and living wage jobs). At the end of the tour they rallied at the United Nations to present their stories and to demand the enforcement of economic human rights in the United States. That bus tour was memorialized in the movie Outriders.
In October of that same year, organizations from across the United States who participated in the bust tour and others who were dedicated to economic human rights gathered in Philadelphia for the Poor People’s Summit on Human Rights. Out of that summit, the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign was formed. Since that summit, the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign has gradually grown from its Philadelphia roots and its KWRU base into a genuinely national network in its scope, membership, and activities.
Since its founding in 1998, the Campaign has employed time-tested human rights and civil rights methods – ranging from educating and documenting, to organizing and agitating – to shine a harsh light on poverty in America, and to build the capacity of poor women and men themselves to lead the fight to reclaim their economic human rights.
Throughout its history PPEHRC has organized mass actions and activities while supporting local actions achieve substantive victories and systemic change. Examples of the mass actions have included:
- A second national bus tour in 2002 to highlight and collect documentation of economic human rights violations across the country.
- High-profile marches, rallies and tent cities involving many thousands of poor people at the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Republican National Conventions in Philadelphia, New York City, and St. Paul demanding the recognition of economic human rights in the United States.
- The convening of the first National Truth Commission on Poverty in the United States, putting poverty on trial in front of an international tribunal of judges. It was held in Cleveland, Ohio in 2006 and was attended by 1, 000 people from 32 states.
- A sunbelt to rustbelt caravan/march from New Orleans the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit to highlight the hidden issues of poverty.
Examples of local actions to enforce economic human rights toward ending poverty have included:
- Working with The Coalition to Protect Public Housing, based in Chicago, future demolition was stopped of any housing units without approval of the tenants.
- Working with Women in Transition, in Louisville, KY, pressure was successfully brought for the state to establish a blue ribbon panel to investigate injustice in the child welfare system, bringing light to families who have lost custody of their children due to poverty.
- Working with Mississippi PPEHRC, there was organized a biracial group of low-income persons who were about to have their FEMA provided cottages repossessed after their homes were lost due to Hurricane Katrina was organized. Through organizing efforts they were able to retain the cottages, and avoid becoming homeless.
In supporting local efforts PPEHRC has contributed in a number of ways: strategic planning, organizing support, technical assistance, and mobilization of members to support actions. The organizing activities are not done in isolation. The lessons that have learned from the organizing activities in one part of the country are used are used to assist others in other parts of the country to learn from the examples.