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What happened to the War on Poverty?

History repeats itself in 2005



"We are fortunate to be alive at this moment in history. Never before has our nation enjoyed, at once, so much prosperity and social progress with so little internal crisis and so few external threats."

This is a quote from President Clinton's 2000 State of the Union Address- only five years ago! In the last 12 months there have been 1 million additional people who are below the poverty level. No wonder many of us are so shocked by the state of poverty in our country. We looked at our TVs and wondered, "Where did all those poor people come from? Is this Rwanda?"

We were shocked, shamed, and angry!

"Mr. President, what you need to do is declare war!" That would be the best way to protect "homeland security." Yes, we need a war; we need a war on poverty.

"But what's that?" I seem to recall that it's something that happened in the 1960s under LBJ's watch, but to refresh my memory I looked it up on Google. Well, Mr. Bush is not the only one that is not acquainted with the war on poverty; Mr. Google doesn't recognize it either. The search, however, did lead me to sites about programs to eradicate poverty, but these were programs in other countries !

It appears that the search engine lists sites in the order of popularity and relevance, and this particular "war on poverty" that I was searching for was archaic and out of fashion. Whatever happened to that effort? It seems that it became less and less popular with Washington politicians because this battle was considered un-winnable, and no one wants to be on the losing side of any battle.

One of the problems for this "war on poverty" was the action was signed on the tails of the 1960s anti-segregation laws, and to further benefit "the blacks" was not particularly popular. Also the funds used for this program directly conflicted with the need for funds to fight the war in Vietnam, and we all know how well that turned out.

Comparisons have been made between Vietnam and Iraq, and this is one more. We were not the victors in Vietnam, we have little hope of being the saviors in Iraq, and we have not won the war on poverty. Rather than employ our resources to protect the homeland, the Bush administration has made the choice to engage the United States citizens in a foreign war.

Shamefully, many of the victims of poverty and the war in Iraq come from the same socioeconomic group: the poor. In fact, let me say the poor African-Americans. We know that a large majority of the enlisted military are African-American and have chosen the military because of the scarcity of other career options available to them. So not only do we send them to a foreign country to be killed for "homeland security," the ones that are left behind are victims of hurricane Katrina, because "homeland security" is not very secure in the homeland. The "invisible poor" are no longer invisible.

We have had the embarrassment and shame to have to endure that fact that the whole world has seen our poor and sick, and the whole world is willing to send aid to our country to help them. This was our dirty little secret, a secret no longer. Poverty has become the evacuee. Poverty is, as they say, "coming to a town near you." Are we ready for it? I think we are. The outpouring for support for the American Red Cross and other relief organizations has been historic in proportions. If the Democratic Party is searching for an identity, they could do a lot worse than re-dedicating themselves to eradicating poverty in America. As individuals, the people of the United States are generous, heartfelt people. There is nothing wrong with our hearts; we are "the brave hearts." It's our heads that get screwed up, and the fear is in our minds. We too often allow ourselves to listen to the fear mongers. Fear is the great intoxicator that puts us to sleep, hoping that if we just give over our individual power everything will be all right in the morning. Unless of course it's Monday morning Sept. 5, you live in New Orleans, and the water is rising....

Barbara Mitchell lives in Paso Robles. She can be reached at loki8@digitalputty.com.

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