War on Poverty at 50 & the Affordable Care Act

16 December 2013


I had an epiphany today while reading articles about the War on Poverty as we near the 50th Anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. The current “war” on the Affordable Care Act is really just the continuation of a practice that is part of an intellectual pastime which seems to always accompany efforts at social reform in our country.

Because there is an ongoing onslaught against social reforms that are based on the belief that people are entitled to make a decent living, and have access to healthy food and health care.

Depending upon your point of view, no doubt the legislation which created the Social Security retirement program marked the end of the world. Actually, those same detractors today continue efforts to destroy one of the most effective social welfare programs—self-funded—by endless disingenuous arguments citing its eminent demise. As if they really cared about beneficiaries.

And in case you wonder, yes, I question their good intentions, with the same zeal I call out those legislators in states who pass “right to work” laws. Where “right to work” means modern day corporate and little bosses can suppress wages and make ungodly profits at the expense of workers who cannot afford to take care of their families and children.

Just how stupid do they think we are?

Back to the Great Society. To read the blogosphere and chatter on the internet the War on Poverty was an abysmal failure, and numerous articles cite an increase in the number of Americans living in poverty today as compared to back in the day, before the federal antipoverty programs. In fact, we know that today more children live in poverty and go hungry than in 1970.

The fallacy is to blame federal welfare programs, instead of the obvious and real culprit. I’ll get to that in a second.

First let’s debunk another prevalent myth. To say that welfare programs foster a culture of dependency is as fallacious as to claim that those born with a silver spoon in their mouths are lazy and only succeed because they are not allowed to fail. Depending upon your last name, you can run a Savings and Loan into the ground; fail at any number of private enterprises, and still be propped up in yet one more family/family connected business.

For the average American, it is hard to believe the system isn’t rigged, when a Texas judge sentences a convicted youth to 10 years probation and no jail time nor juvenile detention for a drunk driving offense where four people are killed. His lawyer effectively argued that the young man was a victim of “affluenza,” meaning that he was raised in privilege and never was reprimanded for his actions, and therefore was not responsible for his actions.

Again, just how stupid do they think we are?

We will only move forward effectively if we are willing to name the reason that our middle class is disappearing, and more and more families cannot afford to feed their children. And the reason is that the system is rigged.

It is rigged by laws that have been enacted to give public handouts to big businesses because they believe they have a right to those handouts. Because they believe they have the right, and even the responsibility to increase profits no matter the harm done to a workforce and environment struggling to survive.

It is rigged for a class of financial institution wizards who are “too big to fail” and hold Congress hostage for compensation or they will “quit.”

Are you kidding?

It is rigged because that same class of people who preach from the Constitution and the Good Book, have somehow convinced themselves that “those” people just don’t work hard enough, or otherwise don’t deserve our collective help.

A moment ago I wrote that I question the intentions of those who support the “right to work” laws, and so many other social and legal constructs that stack the deck against a common working man or woman. But it isn’t even a question of doubting their good intentions. It really is as simple as recognizing that they have forgotten who we are—the American dream (which didn’t work out so well for our Native Americans) but which has beautiful language about the rights of man. And women.

Somewhere we allowed greed to be the measure of success, and of “right.”

Back when the War on Poverty began, I was twelve years old and immediately gathered friends and family to help build the East Long Beach Neighborhood Center, under the direction of adults of course. In the midst of a national tragedy that included the murder of some of our greatest leaders over the span of a decade, and a war in Asia that was not hidden from the American public, we built, we questioned, we engaged, and we thrived as a country and as a people. This is not romanticizing. This is memory, and a reality check about values.

There was pain and gain—the pain of conversations—not endless yelling and lies from television sets—but real conversations about the kind of communities in which we wanted to live. Sure, it was messy. It was imperfect. But that is because it was real, and human, and we were a country struggling to find and define our soul.

As we near the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty we need to decide on the kind of country we want to be, again.

There will be no end of intellectual diatribes about whether or not that war was won or lost. One of our biggest industries now is the talking heads/writers who seemingly serve no real humanitarian purpose but to espouse their opinions. God bless them, they deserve to make a living. But we don’t have to listen, and certainly we don’t have to believe them.

I write as one who lived during those times 50 years ago. Truly, who survived the times.

I look around and see how great we can be, by the efforts of a child pulling weeds in East Oakland. By the people, young-middle-aged-and-old, who are rebuilding our communities one handshake at a time, in Atlanta, in Boston, in Ohio and Colorado. All across the country.

There is a thirst for health and well-being which was a hallmark of the War on Poverty, and which is palpable in communities across this country today. I believe it represents a movement of a people who are tired of being lied to; who know that pursuit of the almighty dollar is not a reason for life.

It is not just that the American people have greatness and potential. All people have greatness and potential. We just got side-tracked over the last 50 years, and seemingly forgot.

CFJC is focusing on the Farm Bill today, because at $1 trillion it can represent what we value. A $1 trillion down payment on the future of our country, and of our people, is the least we can expect from our Congress.

During this holiday season, remember who we are as a people—who you are—and pledge to work with us to build on this movement of people across the state of California, and across the country who are rising to the notion that we can be great again.

Do what you can to help us. For example, we can afford to work in D.C., to help hold Congress accountable because supporters provide housing, transportation, and food for CFJC staff.

What can you do?

We welcome your comments, your suggestions, your critiques, and of course, your support.

Please take a moment and make a donation to CFJC, because we will continue to work on your behalf, and we need your financial support.

And please, when you look back 50 years from now, I hope you can say that you fought for the Affordable Care Act, and for health care of all.

From all of us at CFJC, the Steering Committee, Staff and interns, and the many volunteers—all the best this holiday season, and into the New Year.



Blessings and well wishes,

Armando's Signature



Y. Armando Nieto
Executive Director


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CFJC promotes the basic human right to healthy food while advancing social, agricultural, environmental and economic justice. Through advocacy, organizing and education, we collaborate with community-based efforts to create a sustainable food supply. We envision a food system in which all activities, from farm to table, are equitable, healthful, regenerative and community-driven.

If you believe in these principles JOIN CFJC NOW.

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