By Brian Gilmore

It is time to declare war on poverty again.

Fifty years ago this week, President Lyndon Johnson said in his State of the Union address: "This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort."

It was a moment of great leadership and hope at a precarious time in history.

The war on poverty helped create Medicare and Medicaid.

It also created the Office of Economic Opportunity that started the highly successful and still hugely popular Head Start preschool programs across the country. In Chicago alone, it provided funding for 57 preschool centers to serve poor children.

It initiated food assistance and job training, and it launched literacy programs for adults. It spent more than $20 million to provide 50,000 young people with summer jobs.

It was a comprehensive and aggressive struggle that sought to touch every aspect of life for those suffering under poverty.

Contrary to the rhetoric over the years, the war on poverty was showing signs of success. When it began, the nation's poverty rate was 17 percent. In 10 years, the rate had dropped to 11 percent.

But Congress gradually cut off funding for it. Poverty became entrenched again, and no such bold effort has been tried since that time.

A new war on poverty is needed today. The poverty rate is now at 15 percent. There are 46 million people in the United States still living in poverty. This includes 16 million children and more than 4 million senior citizens.

A new war on poverty should consist of the following:

First, job training for the jobless and educational opportunities for those lacking financial resources to go to college could help millions permanently escape poverty.

Second, temporary benefits such as the extension of unemployment benefits and food assistance could help families ride out these tough times.

And third, higher wages for workers would also allow them to escape poverty.

We can win the war on poverty. But we have to demand it.

As Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy stated in 1968 when the war on poverty starting fizzling out, the problem of poverty is "inseparable from the larger problem of democracy."

Let us use the democratic power that we have, as citizens, to resume this noble fight against poverty in the United States.

Brian Gilmore is a poet and public interest lawyer. He can be reached at

Copyright Brian Gilmore.



Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.


Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project