Summer of Clinton (Not What You Think)
From The ODA Blog
Tags: welfare reform, 2016 election, baltimore, bill clinton, newt gingrich, poverty, war on poverty
Like a lot of Americans these days, I'm feeling a tad grumpy as we move past the 4th of July into the dog days of summer.
This was supposed to be my happy time, my rollicking quadrennial celebration of American democracy. A self-confessed, non-recovering C-SPAN junkie, I've always enjoyed the season of political combat -- the endless primaries, the robotic conventions, the Labor Day restart, the fall debates, the desperate tarmac sound bites, and the early returns from Dixville Notch. I've loved American politics for as long as I can remember. Could there be a more frightening image than a 5th-grade boy who recites from memory the full names of the Secretaries in Lyndon Johnson's Cabinet in order to win extra credit in Mrs. Miller's 1968 social studies class?
I caught the bug early and it's been my constant companion for nearly 58 years. Until now.
I don't care how political you may be, you're on the island of lost Christmas toys if you're genuinely stoked about The Choice. You know, the 24/7 cafeteria brawl on FOX and MSNBC between our prom queen and king, Miss Hillary and Sir Donald. This is my 11th presidential election and I've never seen anything like it. The anger, the chicanery, the general sense of doom and gloom. It's everywhere you turn and it's not likely to improve before November 8th.
So what to do?
Well, in the past, when the present got me down, I always returned . . . to the past. The past has always been my safe place. It's where things have always been a little clearer, where problems have been matched with answers, and where I've found great comfort in knowing we somehow always make it to the present. As I was digging around today for some place in the past where I can hide this summer, it dawned on me I ought to combine my love of history with my passion for changing the lives of the poor.
In 2004, when I first accompanied Maryland social workers on home visits to the poorest neighborhoods in Baltimore, I became enraged that people in my country live in such horrendous conditions. As my heat cooled down a bit and turned into flickering light, I came to understand a little better what Jefferson may have meant when he said "one man with courage is a majority."
I'm still not sure about the majority part, but I've certainly come to understand what TJ meant about one man. This poverty thing is a tough gig even for someone as independent and stubborn as me. There are lots of lonely days for the poor fool who tries to peddle solutions to social chaos.
In any case, I read today that August 22nd will mark the 20th anniversary of President Bill Clinton signing into law The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, otherwise known as welfare reform. Sadly, this is something I've come to learn a whole lot about as I've worked with over 800 poor families since 2005. I know firsthand what the law has done to poor people all across the country, how it negatively altered the thinking of non-poor people, and most regrettably, how it put the illicit drug game on steroids in America's inner city neighborhoods.
As I spend the summer of 2016 hiding from the present, I'm going to revisit the summer of 1996 and ask you to come along on my journey. Since we can't control what the present is going to scream about until November, we might as well have a meaningful chat with the past.
Open Door Baltimore, a nonprofit that fights poverty by working with businesses to provide living-wage jobs, is expanding beyond the beltway. To better reflect the organization’s larger mission, the board of directors recently approved a new identity and logo.Read More