"Outriders" Personalizes Struggle to End Poverty

by Nichole Calhoun, Internet and LAN Intern

"Outriders" details the cross-country tour of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU).  Here, KWRU Director Cheri Honkala calls for an end to poverty and violence at the World March of Women 2000 kick-off on International Women's Day.

The documentary "Outriders" begins on June 1, 1998, as 50 poor and homeless women, men and children board a bus in Philadelphia to document poverty in the United States. Their charter bus is named The Freedom Bus, and its passengers are the Freedom Fighters. They are members of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU) and they will travel across the country to 30 cities in 30 days. Their goal is to gather testimony on evidence of economic human rights violations and bring it to the United Nations on the final day of their journey (July 1, 1998).

"Outriders" is a story of the poor and homeless in the U.S. determined to change their fate and that of countless others afflicted by poverty. The documentary defines an outrider as someone who goes before and announces the coming of another. These outriders know the struggles of poverty and have taken on the challenge for themselves and other poor people who are unable to fight for their rights.

The documentary explores the lives of two riders, Margie and Jason. When the trip begins both are bitter and resentful at what they have endured in their lives. Margie grew up in the Atlanta projects with her single mother and has battled poverty her entire life. She leads the group with her gift of song throughout the trip, channeling her emotions through singing and realizing the purpose of her life. Jason is a 16-year-old who was left by his mother and is running from the Philadelphia authorities. The trip enables Jason to take charge of his life and move on. Through the course of the movie, both Margie and Jason convert their anger into positive energy and begin to celebrate their places in the movement to end poverty.

Filmmakers Pamela Yates and Peter Kinoy are also the creators of "Poverty Outlaw," the predecessor of this documentary (see NNT, May 1997).

The trip is not easy for the riders. They are on the road for an entire month, traveling by bus during the day and often sleeping outside at night. The bus carries mothers, infants, teenagers and grandmothers. These activists only have enough money to pay for the charter bus and gas, so they must rely on over 40 groups for food and shelter. Their days consist of rallying, picketing, practicing civil disobedience and gathering testimony on economic human rights violations.

The Freedom Fighters delivered thousands of stories of the poor in the U.S. to the U.N., and U.N. officials are now investigating violations of economic human rights in the U.S.

KWRU was started by five poor women in April 1991 and is based in Kensington, a neighborhood in North Philadelphia. At one time this neighborhood was a manufacturing center, but is now the poorest district in the state of Pennsylvania. The organization's mission is to provide adequate food, shelter and clothing for the poor. KWRU is also intent on building a movement to end poverty across the country, led by the poor. "Outriders" is an important step in spreading the word.

NOW has worked in coalition with KWRU for years, and on March 8 the two organizations, along with other women's and civil rights groups, kicked-off the World March of Women 2000 (see story).

"Outriders" is available from Skylight Pictures, and is available to individuals for $25 and to institutions for $55. More information can be found online at www.libertynet.org/kwru/updates/newout.html or by calling 1-800-724-8367. Send checks to Skylight Pictures, 330 West 42nd Street, 32nd Floor, New York, NY 10036.

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