Poverty – again

Politics and policy is such an imperfect thing. A few weeks ago, the governor of Vermont signed a package of gun control bills. Huge deal, especially for a Republican, and I, a flaming Obama-Bobby Kennedy guy, praised him for the guts to face down the angry, bitter gun folks to do what’s right.

And then I realized, sitting in a board meeting a few days later about building more housing for poor people, that gun control – while necessary – does very, very little to fix what ails us.

We spend so much time huffing and puffing about guns, education finance, same gender bathrooms, minimum wage, family leave, toxic chemicals and all the rest.

But what is the real issue that faces us? It’s poverty. And it has been poverty since my father-in-law David Hackett wrote the memo for Robert Kennedy that led to the War on Poverty, to Head Start, to VISTA. (I love dropping his name and his work)

Hackett funneled millions in federal dollars into the bleak inner cities that we created for black people between 1961-1963 and laid the groundwork for a community-based War on Poverty.

Then JFK was killed and LBJ lost patience and was consumed by Vietnam.

Ever since, our efforts to create a better society have become a patchwork of band-aids. The current effort is to stem opiate addiction. And to deal with ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences. And to build housing for the homeless.

You want to stick yourself in the eye. We have been fumbling around the edges of this issue since 1961, unable and unwilling to make the commitment to a just society.


What David Hackett and RFK discovered was that people commit crimes because they are hopeless, under-educated, badly-fed, badly-housed. And that makes them vulnerable to the vast power of the American marketing machine that addicts them to Viagra, Sprite, booze, smart phones and McDonalds.

And no political leader I know of is saying “Enough!

I sympathize with Governor Scott and others on this because this is about all of us. We know how to stop school shooters, provide better health care and better schools, stop opiate addiction and ACE.

But it requires an all-out effort to deal once and for all with poverty in an integrated way – housing, nutrition, health care, education, after-school engagement, child care.

We have lost sight of what is valuable in the society and spend our resources and intelligence on creating a Fast Food nation that poisons our kids and addicts them to technology when they should be on their bikes in their neighborhood.

Yet we have destroyed those neighborhoods through bad land-use planning, allowing developers and highway builders to get away with projects that ignore the importance of communities.

The governor knows this and so does the legislature. But to turn the tide would require a massive shift in budget priorities in this country (and Vermont) toward an issue (poverty) where the positive results are VERY long-term. And our political system isn’t patient enough for the decades it would take to make the changes.

Our loyalty to private property rights and a perverted notion of liberty makes it politically impossible. So we tolerate an unjust, unhealthy society that values consumerism and wealth over community well-being because it is just too hard to change it.

Or as RFK said in his memorable speech at the University of Kansas in 1968 – “Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.’’


It’s all right here: