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SPECIAL FOR THE EDITORIAL PAGE
By Congressman Augustus F. Hawkins
People live under duress in the poverty areas for the poverty areas are not regions but institutions. An institution that requires of the poor (Mexican-American, the black and the poor whites) if they are concerned at all about surviving, that they make a thousand daily sacrifices, a thousand daily capitulations to prove that they are unworthy.
This need to surrender in orddr to live does something to people - it cripples their spirit and erodes their sense of dignity. It is a condition of existence, an outlook on life which can exist any place at all: in Birmingham, in Harlem or Los Angeles, they are all the same. They are places where hope does not exist.
There is thus a common factor in the psychology of the deprived - a combination of traits which include a sense of futility.
One of the effects of impoverishment is to preclude the possibility of experiencing those things that are taken for granted by the "affluent Americans." It means for example, that the excluded do not know how baise institutions of this society work - because these institutions have never worked for them. The rich and the poor, view the world differently. It is this distinction in perspective that must be understood before one can reach people, because they must be reached where they are.
This estrangement from participation in the "democratic process," means that people are not only ignorant of this "democratic process," except in vague and non-relevant ways, but also that they
― 2 ―have no control over their lives. The dispossed are bludgeoned by forces they cannot change: the Welfare Department, the Police Department, the automated firm, and those thousands of functionaries who confuse, and bewilder. The poor, are at the mercy of everyone. They are treated accordingly.
The reaction against this set of circumstances takes two general forms: rebellion or resignation. But whichever one of these responses occurs it is evidence that the poor do not believe they have a real future. (Fatalism and superstition go hand-in-hand). They await misfortune because they are not part of the "American Dream," nor do they expect their world to get better because they are their world. And for as far back as there is a living relative to tell, their world has not gotten better. The poor have been beaten by the lack of victory. If then, it is to be helped, it must know success - success introduced into the streets of despair and made relevant to the lives of many.
Unless we recognize this great need and force for sound social change, and plan constructively and crestively, we face in Los Angeles greater dangers of civil strife which can erupt into violence with slight provocations, as events in the last few days demonstrate.
To end the squabbling and face up to our responsibilities in the war on poverty, I urge the immediate approval of the ten month old Economic Opportunity proposal as a starting point. Representation of more people from the poverty areas must be added to this Board until at least one representative from each of our 13 or more poverty areas is recognized. Additional private agencies and minorities likewise should be added. All representatives should be selected, as our public officials, by democratic processes.
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This is only a beginning. The war on poverty will never be won until all of us recognize that people just want to be treated as human beings; that all forms of segregation, defacto included, must be ended; and, that all of us must be given equal opportunity to obtain economic security and human dignity.
Furthermore, forces outside minority communities have got to stop organizing and selecting leadership for minorities. Poverty areas are not colonies to be sliced up and exploited. Poverty problems bind minorities together, the evil of segregation has united them geographically, and necessity has increased their need for self-government. Minorities welcome cooperation but they are determined to make their own decisions and select their own leaders.
How do we overcome this state of affairs? Practically all community organizations for service is power oriented toward the dominant group. Its purpose is usually implied in the statement "How better serve these people." It concerns itself with how the power order meets its responsibility to the powerless. Most of the time it represents the agencies getting together to ask how they can better "slice up" responsibilities in a kind of cartel arrangement in order that greater efficiency in service can be attained.
The alternative to this process is for the group itself to take power and come to communal decision making as peers in the decision making process. In such situations it is hypothesized that the taking of power becomes the antidote to apathy, and that involvement and participation in achieving a place in the power order.
It must be taken through organization. It should be emphasized, also, that it has to be taken, it cannot be given. This means that community organization in this context is by the powerless, and has
― 4 ―to be genuinely grass roots. It has to be organized around the burning issues and frustrations of the group — not some vague do-good goals. It has to be organized with leaders who have a charismic quality of leadership — people who can "quicken the spirit," not by bureaucrats who see it as an interesting experiment in social work. This type of community organization has to bring the larger power order to significant confrontation and keep it there until the issues which relegate the "little people" to such subservient status have been resolved and the social structure altered. In other words, social conflict must run its course until it has restructured a society.
This is where we stand today in this War on Poverty program. The existing establishments are fighting the meaningful involvement of the poor. They are too short sighted to see that the program will fail and/or become another Welfare package unless the poor are given the right to help themselves. We then support the contention of the opposers of these programs, the conservatives and the birchers. And their prophesy will be a correct one unless the poor who live in the poverty pockets select and choose the people within their own areas. They must have the final choice. If this is not done, I will personally join those who are opposing the War on poverty program, because I will not be a party to spending tax payers money on give away and welfare programs - which will not aid in re-building communities, providing for dignity and building local leadership.
The politicans and especially the Negro politican, in this county who have joined the power structure in fighting the involvement
― 5 ―of the poor in a meaningful manner are doing a dis-service to the race, to the poor, this county, to themselves and their children.
The situation in Los Angeles County must be solved through a democratic elective process (it happened in Philadelphia and can happen here). But, prior to that all parties in question (the poor and/or their representatives, the public agencies and the private agencies) sit around a conference table and plan together. There is a social revolution afoot and at this time in history the powers have no alternatives but to recognize that they must treat the poor, the Negro, the Mexican-American as equals. The whole political structure is undergoing a revoluntary change and if we miss this point we miss the meaning of what is being done and do a dis-service to the future progress of our community and county.
As Chairman of the Sub-committee on Anti-poverty for the Western States of the Committee on Education and Labor of the House of Representatives, I shall do everything in my power to make these social changes meaningful and to bring it about in a peaceful manner. As a person who resides in a poverty community myself, I shall do everything possible to bring about changes in my own community and use every measure necessary to accomplish these revolutionary political and social objectives for the poor.