On the Fiftieth Anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's announcement of the War Against Poverty, part of his Great Society programs first conceived by JFK, Georgia Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson joined the majority of their Republican colleagues by voting against the vital extension of unemployment benefits for another three months. Thus, the two Georgia Senators performed their own Dance of the Despicable on the backs of out-of-work, needy, and indeed often desperate fellow Americans at the height of this bitterly-cold Winter season. Shame on our Georgia Senators -- luckily, a few other Republican Senators joined the Democratic Senate Majority in passing an Unemployment Benefit extension, even if it now faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Having served as a foot-soldier in the 1960's widely-misunderstood War Against Poverty, I was privileged to be one of the initiators of such programs as Headstart, which has helped disadvantaged American children to get a decent start in life and in school; and Legal Services, which for the first time gave low-income people some of the same rights to our legal system as the rest of us have enjoyed, and which are guaranteed by our Constitution. I was privileged to see the beginning of a Great Society in which poverty was on its way to eradication, with nearly a million Americans a year advancing above those low income levels for decades -- until that trend began to reverse. Today ever-increasing numbers of our fellow citizens are falling below any sensible minimum income standards. Indeed, our minimum wage is insufficient to provide any semblance of an adequate income to families which must try to survive on that wage.
It is encouraging that at least one political party -- the Democrats -- is starting to take these problems seriously once again, and it is hopeful that the reduction of poverty in the United States will be a major theme of the 2014 and 2016 elections, and beyond. It is also encouraging that at least one Georgia Senator will be retiring next year. May whoever replaces Saxby Chambliss have much more compassion and common sense, and may Senator Johnny Isakson find those virtues for himself. The people of Georgia deserve no less from their Senators -- and from other elected officials, as well.
Eugene Elander has been a progressive social and political activist for decades. As an author, he won the Young Poets Award at 16 from the Dayton Poets Guild for his poem, The Vision. He was chosen Poet Laureate of (more...)