Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Looking at the accomplishments of the War on Poverty

As Washington trims the social safety net, a new book from Georgia urges us to take seriously the War on Poverty’s accomplishments. The debt limit deal brokered last month virtually guarantees dramatic cuts to programs that serve poor and working people. Given Washington’s embrace of austerity, Annelise Orleck and Lisa Hazirjian’s new collection THE WAR ON POVERTY: A NEW GRASSROOTS HISTORY is especially timely. It brings together original essays about the antipoverty programs of the Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations. Orleck and Hazirjian note that the Great Society’s collective impact is staggering; in the twenty-first century one in seven Americans receives food stamps and community health centers are the largest primary care system in the nation.

But the War on Poverty’s local effects – the mobilization of poor people, the cultivation of new community leaders, the challenge to traditional power structures – are arguably just as important. This book introduces readers to Cherokees in Oklahoma, poor whites in Appalachia, civil rights activists in Memphis, and Asian Americans in New York’s Chinatown – all of them not simply receiving federal aid, but creating innovative programs to fight their own wars on poverty. As Michael B. Katz of the University of Pennsylvania puts it, these essays “bring to life the War on Poverty at the grassroots, where it was really fought.”

The War on Poverty: A New Grassroots History contains new pieces by many of the leading historians of politics and policy in twentieth-century America, including the authors of two prizewinning books from Georgia – Susan Ashmore, author of CARRY IT ON, and Kent Germany, author of NEW ORLEANS AFTER THE PROMISES. It also complements Georgia’s new edition of Allen Matusow’s classic THE UNRAVELING OF AMERICA.