Friday, September 08, 2006

Let’s Study The Rich, Racist And Greedy

As a community, we now have established committees to study what to do about poverty in Cleveland. Again.
After the embarrassing news that Cleveland ranks No. 1 in poverty, Mayor Jane Campbell and other political, civic and corporate leaders jumped all over the issue. They launched a new examination of poverty and what to do about it.
Haven’t we done this before? Haven’t we done this in some form a thousand times before?
Does anyone remember the U. S. Civil Rights Commission hearings of 1965 in Cleveland to examine poverty, its causes and its consequences? Does anyone remember Mayor Carl Stokes 1968 Commission on Welfare in Cleveland? Or the 1990 study, “An Analysis of Poverty and Related Conditions in Cleveland’s Neighborhoods?” Or the 1992 Cleveland Foundation Commission on Poverty report on the long-term strategy for eliminating poverty?

The Cleveland Foundation promoted The Center for Urban Poverty and Social Change at Case Western Reserve’s School of Applied Social Science which has been in business for a decade studying Cleveland poverty. It now has a staff of more than 25.
Yet the poverty rises and intensifies.
So where are the solutions?
I don’t think we need another committee of muckity-mucks to study or examine poor people and tell us what to do. We’ve already had too many examinations.
What we need is a community-wide study of wealth, racism and greed. Let’s have the Cleveland Foundation put up the dough for this community study.
Then we might get somewhere in arresting poverty. Let’s start by telling the truth.
Poverty is the lack of wealth and we’re doing damned little to address that. Ohio keeps the minimum wage as low as it can. It eliminates penury welfare payments. The State of Ohio recently admitted having $430 million of federal welfare funds unspent and balking at giving it to the rightful recipients – poor people.
When Senator George Voinovich was governor, he insisted upon the deepest welfare payment cuts by choosing to limit welfare to three years in a lifetime instead of the five years possible under “welfare reform.” On the other hand, when Voinovich was mayor, he typically insisted that UDAG loans to wealthy developers in the tens of millions of dollars be lent the maximum 20 years, not fewer. In addition, Voinovich made these loans to developers for repayment 20 years out, not after five or ten years. In addition, he invariably charged no interest when he could – and should have - charged interest.
In other words, Voinovich treated the poor wretchedly and the rich with unlimited generosity.
No, we don’t have to study poverty any more. We have to study the other half. Then we have to do something about it.
Another committee to study poverty is not a solution. It is an evasion. It’s a delaying tactic. It is an avoidance plan. It has worked for years, decades. Why not try again with the bait and switch. It is political and civic bullshit.
One of the major institutions in Cleveland that needs to deal with poverty is the Cleveland Foundation. That’s the starting place because as Willy Sutton explained, he robs banks because that’s where the money is.
In 1991, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy studied the Cleveland Foundation, which is not only important in and of itself but it tends to direct where other wealthy foundations put their tax-free dollars.
While the National Committee found the Cleveland Foundation gave considerable money to what we might call disadvantaged issues, it also found that “the foundation tends not to directly fund grassroots groups serving the disadvantaged, places few resources with groups that play aggressive advocacy roles and has not supported community organizing or leadership development strategies that focus on low-income communities."
“The foundation has expended few resources on risk-taking ventures that directly involve the disadvantaged in decision-making,” it continued.
The report went on to note: “The dominate theme of the foundation’s approach is its reliance on professional expertise, often drawn from outside the Greater Cleveland area. Leaders of disadvantaged constituencies are rarely involved in direct dialogue with the Foundation about its policies and program choices, and are not part of the Foundation's decision-making process.”
It went on to say that, “…a large majority of grants to benefit the disadvantaged (are) provided to establishment community groups and intermediary organizations that do not directly represent disadvantaged constituencies.”
Indeed, the history of the Foundation reveals that it sits on people and groups that want change. It has a history of intolerance toward those who demand change in a manner that pressures elites and the wealthy. It has destroyed or changed by its funding policies those activist organizations that fought for the underdog.
The purpose may not have been to limit poor people per se, but to limit the harm that might befall rich people. The result, then, was the same.
Committees with a bunch of fancy names aren’t going to help poor people. Poor people have to learn that they have to pressure these elites themselves. That’s the only language the top dogs understand. Otherwise, get in the bread line and be studied.
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