War on Poverty: Initiated by Socialist Michael Harrington

Duane Campbell

harrington.jpgIt was good to read this week the many news reports and  articles recording the 50th. anniversary of the War on Poverty, and several even recognized the important role played by Michael Harrington with his best seller book- The Other America : Poverty in the United States (1962). However, they failed to report that Harrington was a leading socialist of his era.

Publishing  The  Other America was a seminal event  leading meetings with  President John F. Kennedy and Sargent Shriver’s  work with the administration.  The book helped to shape President Johnson’s plans for  a War on Poverty.  

Harrington became a widely read intellectual and political writer on poverty and programs that could overthrow poverty.  He continued for decades to critique programs that responded to poverty half-heartedly rather than organizing  an effective political project for a more equal and prosperous society.

In the 1970’s Harrington went on to organize  and found the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).   DSA has attracted intellectually powerful, committed intellectual activists like Cornel West, Frances Piven, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Gloria Steinem;  labor union leaders; and young people, among others who align themselves with DSA.  He was also the founding editor of the Democratic Left magazine, the parent of this blog.

Poverty today is everyone’s problem: It affects not only some invisible “them,” but touches all of us directly or indirectly. And, the nature of poverty in the U.S. has changed in the last 50 years. No longer are there isolated pockets of extreme poverty. Today, it is widespread and many people are but one lost job away from falling into poverty.

 More than 30 years of neoliberal capitalist policies of deregulation, gutting labor rights, corporate outsourcing, regressive tax cuts, and defunding basic social services has spread poverty to every corner of our  society. With de-unionization and the decline of workers’ bargaining power, having a full-time job no longer guarantees an escape from poverty. Today over half of the families in the United States who live in poverty have at least one family member who is a full-time employee.  Meanwhile, politicians, mostly (but not exclusively) in the Republican Party, slash unemployment benefits, cut public school and social service budgets, eliminate jobs programs and attack public sector unions.

Unfortunately many of the problems described by Harrington in 1962 remain with us today.  Several of the root causes of poverty are inherent in capitalism.  We in  DSA seek  to counter a dominant, racially charged conservative narrative that blames the poor and working people for their plight rather than the structural economic changes enacted by governing elites who do not care for the good of all, much less recognize the causes of these problems and of possible solutions.

For more on the life of Michael Harrington see The Other American: The Life of Michael Harrington (Public Affairs, 2000).

 

IMG_1261c.jpegDuane Campbell is a professor emeritus of bilingual multicultural education at California State University Sacramento, a union activist for over 40 years, and chair of Sacramento DSA. He blogs on politics, education and labor at www.choosingdemocracy.blogspot.com and www.talkingunion.wordpress.com.

 

 

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LGBT Activism: A Brief History with Thoughts about the Future

April 01, 2017
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Historian John D'Emilio's presentation will do 3 things: Provide a brief explanation of how sexual and gender identities have emerged; provide an overview of the progression of LGBT activism since its origins in the 1950s, highlighting key moments of change; and, finally, suggest what issues, from a democratic socialist perspective, deserve prioritizing now. John co-authored Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, which was quoted by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision that ruled state sodomy laws unconstitutional. 1 pm ET; 12 pm CT; 11 am MT; 10 am PT.

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Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
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Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But also check out the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT. Here's a blog post about PHIT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

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What Is DSA? Training Call

April 05, 2017
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If you're a new DSAer, have been on a new member call, but still have questions about DSA's core values/strategy/core work and how to express these ideas in an accessible way to the media, as well as to friends, family and others who might be interested in joining DSA, this call is for you. 

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Feminist Working Group

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People of all genders are welcome to join this call to discuss DSA's work on women's and LGBTQ issues, especially in light of the new political reality that we face after the elections.  9 pm ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.

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Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
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Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.