The Welfare Monologues
We've all heard of the Vagina Monologues. Four college students I work with at Welfare Rights Initiative at Hunter College borrowed this format for their final project this year, and used it to document the experience of being a young woman on welfare. Some excerpts are below. Read it and weep.
But first, I think this cartoon from Paul Candelaria will help to set the stage:
Expelling the Myth of the Other
Written by Sana Fayyaz, Kerrin Hubbard, Mandeep Kaur and Rachel Morgenstern
We are gathered here today to present to you the "The Welfare Monologues". What you are about to see is not made up or created out of thin air. Instead it is a collection of real stories with real people with their very true words. All the material used is taken from the mouths of our very own politicians and from our beloved Welfare Rights Initiative (WRI) Alumni, courtesy of Dillonna Lewis, WRI Co-director. As we go along into the Monologues, you will find yourself able to relate to the experiences of past WRI students-all coming from different backgrounds sharing one important commonality: the struggle and pain of dealing with poverty and poverty-related issues and the strife to overcome and guide themselves towards success.
Without further interruption, we would like to commence "The Welfare Monologues" with a blast from the past...our very own, President Ronald Reagan.
Who is a woman receiving public assistance?
"She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 social security cards and is collecting veterans benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She's got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and is collecting welfare under each of her names."
"I grew up in Connecticut as the youngest of three children and nine cousins. Our home was comfortable and we lived a privileged lifestyle because my father was successful as an entrepreneur. He taught himself to cook by spending time with his Italian aunts and opened his first restaurant the year I was born. The restaurant was a thriving business and our family was having fun and working hard at the same time. Unfortunately the success was both positive and negative for my family. With the money my father made he began to open other businesses. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but in reality he spread his energy too thin. The result was many failed businesses and insurmountable debt to show for it. My father first declared bankruptcy when I was 18. He still has not recovered from his financial hardships. He struggles to make ends meet and they rarely do; he can't often drive his car because he can't afford to insure it. I believe that my father cannot find the kind of job that would support him and my younger siblings because he does not have a college degree. I am determined to go to college and everyday I struggle with the task of supporting myself and going to school. Each week, I work over 35 hours while attending classes. It's well worth it to me, because my father's story reminds me that although money and success can be taken away or lost, education cannot."
" I was born in St. Mary, Jamaica and was a pretty frail kid. I remember being sick a lot when I was young but I also remember getting in trouble none-the-less...With stories, I found I could escape for hours and not come back until I felt like it or when the story ended. My Mom took my reading as a sign and had me tested when it was time to enroll in school and we found that I was able to move forward a few years but my Mom feared that I may not adjust, since I would be younger and from a different country compared to my classmates, so she took the option to only move me ahead by a year.
The rest is now history. I applied for competitive magnet schools and college seemed right on the other side of the horizon until my Mom got her divorce. This was the first time I had ever thought of my mother as a "single mother" and it changed my views of things from what I had heard happened to "single mothers" in America. I had a vision of single mothers as poor, sad, and raising five children in a small house or one bedroom apartment on welfare. After a few weeks of talking about my fears, I realized this was not the image and I got back on the right track.
According to my mother, she never saw any other option for me after high school but college. After her experience in college, she claims she would never had wanted me to miss out on it no matter how many jobs she'd have to work. It's hard to know that my mother has sacrificed so much for my education. She had to wake up at 5 in the morning to help me get ready for magnet schools that were an hour and a half away from where we lived. And even now, as I continue my pursuit of college and a better future, my mother has to work to make sure the bills get paid."
This quote was taken from Time Magazine's "100 Days of Attitude" written by John F. Stacks from April 10,1995:
"Nonetheless, the country is up in arms over welfare, convinced that while the middle class is struggling, the poor are getting something for nothing. The debate in the House on welfare was symptomatic of that anger. Representative John Mica of Florid's Seventh District compared welfare recipients to alligators and cautioned that "unnatural feeding and artificial care increases dependency."
His fellow republican, Representative Barbara Cubin of Wyoming, decided that the better analogy was to caged wolves: "When you take away their freedom and their dignity, they can't provide for themselves." In opposition, Representative Earl Hilliard, a Democrat from Alabama, concluded starkly that the proposed welfare cuts were "un-American."
One Actor holds up "Don't feed the Alligators" sign and re-enacts the argument.
Hello everyone! I'm Florida's Republican, Rick Dantzler. I agree with my fellow Representative John L. Mica. I want to ask you, "Does a man have the right to impregnate a woman and does that woman have the right to bear a child knowing Uncle Sam will pick up all the responsibility? Do they have the constitutional right to do that and make us pay for it?"
I remember wearing the same two pants, alternating days. Day in, day out, it was the same drudgery, the same thing. Poverty wore me out. It wore my parents first. Looking for jobs, being paid less than they were worth. Being conned and looked at wrong because they didn't know the language well. You think education is expensive...boy...you should try ignorance! It costs us our laughter. We paid in tears. My dad started beating my mother; she said it began when my sister was born, so I guess that made me six when it started, my brother, three...The memories play out in my head...
Performance of Skit
Mommy I'm tired of waiting can we go home!
No, sweetie. We'll see the caseworker in a few minutes then we can leave, okay?
NO! I'm bored! I hate waiting here all the time.
Mary, please. Only a few more minutes then we can go.
Are you excited to start school next week?
YES! I can't wait to go. I want to be a doctor when I grow up!
That's great! Can you me a big favor though?
Please don't tell anyone that we get stamps for our food.
But why should I lie?
Just do it for me Mary, please...
(The client in the caseworker exits and the caseworker come to the door)
Come Mary, we'll be out in just a few more minutes.
(She takes Mary's hand and they enter the office with the Caseworker. Mrs. Lowell takes the higher chair in front of the desk)
What is the matter Mrs. Lowell?
Well, I had my third child last month. It's been really hard on the family financially. My husband's becoming very frustrated and hard to deal with. He's becoming violent and I don't want to raise my children in that environment.
So what do you want me to do?
I was wondering if we could get an increase in our budget.
With three children now living on what we have isn't enough. We've been trying our hardest to make ends meet but...
Why didn't you get an abortion?
(Stands up and shouts at the Case Worker)
DON'T WORRY LADY, NEXT TIME SHE DID!
(turns to the audience and starts to take out the pigtails)
I will always remember this day. For the first time I realized that my family was poor and all the shame and humiliation that came with it.
(Steps on the chair)
My mother eventually left my father. She had to sell everything she had for enough money to get by. No one cared, not even the social workers that were supposed to help us. That's what happens when you don't have money, no one cares, you're forgotten. (Steps on the desk)
Everyone in my family says, "Life is hard." I agree but I am not going to let poverty keep me down. After high school I enrolled at Hunter College, now I'm about to graduate. I'll be taking my MCATs soon and plan to go to medical school. Nothing is going to stop me from achieving my dream.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Quote (All in sync): "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."