ABSTRACT

At the first nationwide welfare rights protest on June 30, 1966, recipients in New York C ity carried sig ns that r ead, “I’m a h uman being t oo.” One demonstrator reportedly told the press,“The welfare treats you like animals, they want you to be animals and ifyou let them get away with it, you will be an animal.”1 The sentiment that the welfare system dehumanized recipients and t reated them capr iciously unit ed par ticipants in the w elfare r ights movement. Prior to the emergence of the welfare rights movement, many recipients were unaware of their rights; others were too ashamed to make claims for better treatment or had too few avenues to challenge the power of welfare officials. Beginning in the 1960s, welfare recipients organized to change the way welfare was administered, protesting violations of their civil rights, arbitrary rules and regulations, and the lack of dignity. They sought to diminish the power of caseworkers, educate recipients about welfare regulations, ensure fair enfor cement of laws, pursue a legal st rategy to bring AFDC under constitutional protection, and include w elfare recipients in the making of welfare policy. They ultimately wanted to remove the stigma associated with receipt of welfare and empower recipients.