POWER (Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights)
POWER's Mission Statement: POWER is an organization of low-income parents and allies advocating for a strong social safety net while working toward a world where children and care giving are truly valued, and the devastation of poverty has been eradicated.
POWER, Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights, is made up of low-income people and allies advocating for things that are important to them. It is a non-profit grant run grass roots organization.
A little history on the beginnings of POWER…. POWER started about ten years ago when Seattle based Welfare Rights Organizing Coalition collapsed. WROC was one of the main organizations in Washington State doing welfare rights advocacy for twenty-four years. A set of bylaws within the organization did not place the ultimate governance in the hands of its members, which ultimately led to the coalition breaking apart. Learning from the experience, members and staff of WROC continued this important work, with bylaws to make POWER a true member run organization.
POWER is a matrifocal community as described in pattern card #9 “Matrifocal Orientation”. As a non-profit grass roots organization, POWER’s main focus is on single mothers and their children, the population most likely to be poor in our patrifocal society. POWER works to help members understand that they are more likely to be poor because they are participants in an economic system that benefits off their poverty, rather then “their bad choices”. POWER uses a consensus based model of decision-making, representing Pattern card #10 “Collective Decision Making”. It does not matter if you are entering POWER as a first time volunteer or you have been a long time member for years, all opinions and suggestions are taken and considered equally.
POWER is a mainly volunteer based organization. There is a board, of which active members, those who have participated in twenty hours of POWER activities annually, can apply to be candidates in the annual board elections. Anyone can be a general member. POWER keeps in touch with their members through their newsletter, POWER News, which comes out weekly via e-mail or every two months via mail. The board must consist of over 50% of low-income members. This ensures that those that have experienced poverty maintain majority. POWER has an Americorps volunteer year round and has a number of work-study students; also many interns from the different colleges around town are involved with the work of POWER.
Pattern card #130 “Whistle Blowing” is similar to one of the activities POWER does. The Department of Social and Health Services, is where low and no income people can apply for benefits. For a variety of reasons, including a program that encourages caseload reduction over poverty reduction, a high ratio of clients per caseworker, and a lack of anti-oppression training, caseworkers often fail to give the proper information and attention to the needs of their clients. The blame is then placed on the clients and welfare work requirements are created that remove the focus from the important job of parenting to a primary focus work. POWER provides the important information to welfare recipients as to their rights on public benefits and how to be their own best advocates.
Low-income people generally have limited access to resources so POWER aims to be a reliable resource. Open five days a week, from 9am to 5pm, the POWER office is available for walk ins and phone calls. They have two lines, a regular one and a toll free line that anyone can call. People call POWER, wanting to understand better the options available to them through the welfare system. POWER strives to give the most efficient information so the callers can advocate for themselves and make the most out of what welfare offers to help get them out of poverty. POWER does research on laws and regulations because often caseworkers tell their clients things that simply are not true. POWER offers their personal services such as being a witness during a meeting with a caseworker to make sure abuse is not happening.
Another way POWER “whistle blows” is through our statistics. When a person calls about their rights, POWER uses a special form to take down notes. Two of the questions asked is, “where is your welfare office located?” and “who is your case worker?” this is followed by how their caseworker treats them. At the end of the month, stats are taken and POWER can see if there are any reoccurrences of abuse or neglect. This also works the other way, if say; a caseworker was continually great with their clients.
“Power of Story” pattern card #114 is something that POWER continually does. They have recordings of personal stories surrounding poverty in hopes to challenge the negative stereotypes about who is poor and why. POWER broadcasts stories from members via print, radio, and video. POWER members often testify at public hearings, using their personal stories to illustrate support or dissent, for prospective laws and policies. This also goes into “Voices of the Unheard” pattern card #83. Along with using personal stories to bring attention to the people of the issues surrounding poverty, POWER works very hard to have their voice heard. They have been protesting against the recent budget cut propsals with a special focus on the cuts that already happened to TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families). Since the majority of POWER members are low-income or from low-income backgrounds, they advocate that they should be involved in the decisions that directly affect them.
POWER is a growing organization. Since the beginning of this year 2011, The main POWER office has moved out of a church donated room to an actual office space downtown Olympia allowing for more people to get involved as well as allowing the organization to do more for and in the community. Also just this year POWER has started two other branches; Seattle and Vancouver Washington. By growing so much in such a short amount of time the dynamics of POWER has changed. As an organization they should be trying to figure their growth structure out and this has proved very difficult. This summer POWER will higher a volunteer coordinator. I believe this one step towards better communication between the needs of POWER and what volunteers/ workstudy students/ interns can do. However there are many issues at hand with the growth of POWER. What types of actions should they be more focused on? What other organizations should they make better connections with? POWER is facing these questions and many more and having a difficult time figuring it out.
Obviously POWER has potential to be an affective organization for change, the fast growth in the past months has shown that. However, something is not working. POWER has a very high turn over rate, which makes long-term projects an unorganized arduous task to say the least. Why does this seemingly great organization keep losing people?
One of the many activities POWER does is hold public events. They do these events in hopes to bring in people to raise awareness and promote dialogue about poverty. The problem is, these events are rarely planned out with a direction. Sure they want to raise awareness but how is holding a said event going to do that? What is the final outcome or what would be the ideal outcome of said event? These types of question are not a priority within the organization. This leads to disconnect with the people. POWER helps many different people on a daily basis to find information that can potentially help get them out of poverty. POWER has thousands of members. However when it comes down to it very few people show up to these events and it’s usually the interns and work-study students who are contracted with the organization at the time.
POWER has the capability to lead a people’s movement but they need to address the issues that always seem to get pushed under the rug. With real goals in mind when planning different actions and events and making sure the word is out, POWER could make real social change.