Wages of Welfare War

Down in the Liberty City projects, a growing number of women's voices are just saying no to workfare as we know it

On January 21 three members of Minority Families fly to Los Angeles for another conference. This time the National Employment Law Project will pick up the tab. Sweeting is on for another trip to "Cali." So is Tassy. "What they've been taught forever they can't do, they're finding out that they can," Perera says.


It's a wet winter night in Liberty City, and Gihan Perera has just gotten off work in North Miami Beach. He travels these streets almost every night, most of the time alone, briefcase in hand, making his rounds. He knocks on the doors of strangers and touches base with familiar faces. Tonight he visits two Minority Families members.

A small regiment of single mothers marches to war against welfare reform
Photo courtesy Gihan Perera
A small regiment of single mothers marches to war against welfare reform

At Veronica Sweeting's apartment they reminisce about their trip to California, share a few laughs, and briefly go over the articles that are set to run in a newsletter she edits, which will be published by the end of January. Sweeting's two teenage sisters are in the living room watching television, uninterested in their older sister's endeavors. One of them has her month-old baby stretched out across her thighs as she sucks the infant's pacifier. Before departing, Perera informs Sweeting that Romano will be by the next day to drop off the laptop.

Perera gets in Romano's "family back-up car," a sky-blue 1981 Toyota Corolla with a gold stripe, and calls Sheton Bellamy from his cell phone. "I'm on my way over," he tells Bellamy. "Be ready 'cause I got CNN, NBC, and the New York Times with me."

"No, wait, I gotta clean up the house," Bellamy responds in a panic.

"I'm just kidding," Perera says laughing.

At Bellamy's house Perera tells her how much they missed her at the last WAGES meeting, and asks how her son is doing. He had been hospitalized with an ear infection. Before leaving he wishes Bellamy and her family a merry Christmas. Hypnotized by what's on TV, family members don't even look at Perera as he walks by them across the room toward the door.

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