Panel Discusses War on Poverty
Published: Friday, November 9, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 9, 2012 02:11
A panel inspired by 1960s activist Michael Harrington and his book “The Other America” discussed the progression of issues of activism since Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty Thursday evening.
The event, titled “50 Years After Michael Harrington's ‘The Other America’: Where is the War on Poverty?” was sponsored by Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, Metro D.C. Democratic Socialists of America and Dissent Magazine.
The event began with the 1999 film “Today's Other America: Corporate Power and Inequality,” which showed archival footage of Harrington and interviews with his peers.
His book, which discussed the experiences of the working class and unemployed in America, influenced President Johnson’s 1962 War on Poverty legislation as well as panelist Harold Meyerson, a Washington Post columnist and DSA vice chair, who first saw Harrington speak when he was a student at Columbia University.
“Michael was the most influential person in my life besides my parents,” he said. “He was a prolific speaker.”
Meyerson commented on Harrington’s effect on social leftists in the 1960s and 1970s, especially in his denouncing American capitalism.
“He was concerned with rebuilding the left,” he said. “Capitalists have an accommodation with labor that can easily be undone.”
The other panelist, Heidi Hartmann, a feminist economist and founder of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, focused on the correlation between poverty and gender and the importance of attaining universal benefits in America.
Hartmann said that among children, girls have a slightly higher poverty rate than boys because men are more likely to divorce their wives if the couple has only girls.
“It is not just a gender gap,” she said. “It’s about women being more likely to have and stay with their children.”
Hartman talked about the instability and increased poverty that women face when raising their children alone, relating it to her own experiences being raised by a single mother.
“My mother did not have a stable job because of constant layoffs,” she said. “She was laid off on Christmas Eve once.”
However, both Meyerson and Hartman expressed hope for the future under Obama’s second term.
Meyerson zeroed in on his relief that the presidency had not come under Republican control, especially regarding the economy.
“You hear the Republican Party today — they’re going back to Hoover,” he said. “It took the collapse of Wall Street for others to notice what’s been going on for decades.”
Hartman suggested issues that Obama should tackle in the next four years.
“Welfare is gone. … I would make a plea for universal public policy,” she said.