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WelfareQUEENS: When Poor Women Are the Experts on Poverty

 by Danielle Maestretti


Tags: Arts, performance art, welfareQUEENS, POOR News Network, poverty, theater, make shift, Blog Action Day, Danielle Maestretti,

Blog Action DayWriting for the new issue of make/shift (article not available online), Keidra Chaney profiles the welfareQUEENS, a performance art group that aims to “make poor women of color visible and vocal in the U.S. dialogue on poverty,” adding their stories and experiences to the opinions of policy makers and “experts” who have rarely (if ever) experienced poverty themselves. (The welfareQUEENS’ name, of course, is a reclamation of the hideous term popularized by Ronald Reagan during his first presidential campaign.) Chaney writes:

At a time when the gap between the wealthy and the poor seems insurmountable, poverty remains misrepresented in both mainstream and independent media. Poor people, often demonized as criminals or infantilized as charity cases, are rendered silent. The voice of experience is quieted in favor of the voice of so-called expertise. Academic scholars, social workers, and pundits are allowed to represent the poor in the media while those who actually experience poverty daily go unquoted.

Back in May, I pointed to an excellent FAIR study that backs up this argument. In fact, the study notes, “If you’re poor and want to get on the nightly news, it helps to be either elderly or in the armed forces.”

The welfareQUEENS are neither, so they communicate their stories another way: Last year, the group wrote a play based on their experiences with poverty, then performed it at the U.S. Social Forum and at San Francisco’s Brava Theater.

Chronologically structured around the experiences of three generations of women, the play looks at the herstory of the welfare system. The performers speak of the lives of their grandmothers and mothers, who experienced domestic abuse, discrimination as single parents and women of color, and separation from their families through domestic work.

The Bay Area–based welfareQUEENS are part of the POOR News Network, a grassroots media organization that includes the online POOR Magazine and tons of other poverty-related projects.

For more alt-press dispatches from Blog Action Day, click here .