Welfare is a Women’s Issue (1972) by Johnnie Tillmon

via OUR TIME

Welfare is a Women’s Issue (1972) by Johnnie Tillmon

I’m a woman. I’m a black woman. I’m a poor woman. I’m a fat woman. I’m a middle-aged woman. And I’m on welfare.

In this country, if you’re any one of those things you count less as a human being. If you’re all those things, you don’t count at all. Except as a statistic.

I am 45 years old. I have raised six children. There are millions of statistics like me. Some on welfare. Some not. And some, really poor, who don’t even know they’re entitled to welfare. Not all of them are black. Not at all. In fact, the majority-about two-thirds-of all the poor families in the country are white.

Welfare’s like a traffic accident. It can happen to anybody, but especially it happens to women.

And that’s why welfare is a women’s issue. For a lot of middle-class women in this country, Women’s Liberation is a matter of concern. For women on welfare it’s a matter of survival.

Survival. That’s why we had to go on welfare. And that’s why we can’t get off welfare now. Not us women. Not until we do something about liberating poor women in this country.

Because up until now we’ve been raised to expect to work, all our lives, for nothing. Because we are the worst educated, the least-skilled, and the lowest-paid people there are. Because we have to be almost totally responsible for our children. Because we are regarded by everybody as dependents. That’s why we are on welfare. And that’s why we stay on it.

Welfare is the most prejudiced institution in this country, even more than marriage, which it tries to imitate. Let me explain that a little.

Ninety-nine percent of welfare families are headed by women. There is no man around. In half the states there can’t be men around because A.F.D.C. (Aid to Families With Dependent Children) says if there is an “able-bodied” man around, then you can’t be on welfare. If the kids are going to eat, and the man can’t get a job, then he’s got to go.

Welfare is like a super-sexist marriage. You trade in a man for the man. But you can’t divorce him if he treats you bad. He can divorce you, of course, cut you off anytime he wants. But in that case, he keeps the kids, not you.The man runs everything. In ordinary marriage, sex is supposed to be for your husband. On A.F.D.C., you’re not supposed to have any sex at all. You give up control of your own body. It’s a condition of aid. You may even have to agree to get your tubes tied so you can never have more children just to avoid being cut off welfare.

The man, the welfare system, controls your money. He tells you what to buy, what not to buy, where to buy it, and how much things cost. If things-rent, for instance-really cost more than he says they do, it’s just too bad for you. He’s always right.

That’s why Governor [Ronald] Reagan can get away with slandering welfare recipients, calling them “lazy parasites,” “pigs at the trough,” and such. We’ve been trained to believe that the only reason people are on welfare is because there’s something wrong with their character. If people have “motivation,” if people only want to work, they can, and they will be able to support themselves and their kids in decency.

The truth is a job doesn’t necessarily mean an adequate income. There are some ten million jobs that now pay less than the minimum wage, and if you’re a woman, you’ve got the best chance of getting one. Why would a 45-year-old woman work all day in a laundry ironing shirts at 90-some cents an hour? Because she knows there’s some place lower she could be. She could be on welfare. Society needs women on welfare as “examples” to let every woman, factory workers and housewife workers alike, know what will happen if she lets up, if she’s laid off, if she tries to go it alone without a man. So these ladies stay on their feet or on their knees all their lives instead of asking why they’re only getting 90-some cents an hour, instead of daring to fight and complain.

Maybe we poor welfare women will really liberate women in this country. We’ve already started on our own welfare plan. Along with other welfare recipients, we have organized so we can have some voice. Our group is called the National Welfare Rights Organization (N.W.R.O.). We put together our own welfare plan, called Guaranteed Adequate Income (G.A.I.), which would eliminate sexism from welfare. There would be no “categories”-men, women, children, single, married, kids, no kids-just poor people who need aid. You’d get paid according to need and family size only and that would be upped as the cost of living goes up.

As far as I’m concerned, the ladies of N.W.R.O. are the front-line troops of women’s freedom. Both because we have so few illusions and because our issues are so important to all women-the right to a living wage for women’s work, the right to life itself.

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Remembering Chris Keith, aka “The Adventures of a Thrifty Mama”

chris
Chris just made this her Facebook header photo recently. I smiled every time I saw it . It should be said that Chris’ had a fabulous sense of humor.

I “met” Chris through my Facebook page for my personal blog crazy dumbsaint of the mind and I in turn become a fan of her blog Adventures of a Thrifty Mama in the City ‘Stead, and then later we got to know each other outside of blogging. For those  who don’t know how online friendships work, they might be confused when I call Chris my friend. Online friendships are funny things and sometimes it happens that the people you trust online with your experiences  and thoughts are these people you’ve never even had so much as a cup of coffee with.

Chris & I had a lot in common. We were both struggling to feed our families real food on a food stamp budget and defied being stereotyped as “welfare mom living off the system”. We both were striving  to create a sustainable  and secure food sovereignty for ourselves that didn’t require the safety net of the system, yet both strongly felt that the safety net needed to be there for people who need it to eat. Just a couple months ago, she  was interviewed on a local TV station to talk about the November food stamp cuts and what it could mean to low income families. We both had a history of domestic abuse &  trauma. Beyond that, we had very similar parenting philosophies and were proud Mamas to our larger-than-average family.

It hurts to write these things in the past tense, knowing that that tense does not apply to me as I’m still very much alive and still those things and she is not.On December 5th, Chris and her 14 year old son Isaac were shot and killed by her estranged husband, who was given his guns back by police only one day before.

I don’t want this to be Chris’ story. She was a survivor and now she isn’t. It’s murky territory to presume to speak for the dead but I think Chris would want it said that even though domestic violence can affect all different kinds of women (and men),  the fear of poverty is what prevents many mothers from leaving and if they do find the courage to leave, they do indeed find themselves subjected to poverty. Photo: Eaton Rapids High School Class of 1994 Lost a great friend, daughter and mother yesterday in an act of violence that I can't even fathom. Please keep Chris Keith's children and family in your thoughts and prayers in this very difficult time. If anyone you know is struggling with an unhealthy relationship and you can help please do not hesitate.There is a clear need to address the way families are affected by domestic violence and the part poverty can play on it.

I’ll put that discussion aside for now. When I talk about domestic violence issues in the future,I’ll be thinking of Chris. Right now, my thoughts are with her family & her three youngest children who are safe and being cared for by family. There is a memorial fund set up by Chris’ church. You can go here to make a contribution.

*UPDATED TO ADD*
The church and family request that no more toys,clothing and gifts be donated. Monetary donations to the memorial fund are the most needed as Chris’ mom will need to remodel her house a little for the children to live with her and of course, both short term & long term care of the children.